The UK government has recently approved a new technology that could make driving on motorways safer and more convenient. The technology, called Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS), allows vehicles to operate autonomously at speeds of up to 37mph (60km/h) on motorways without requiring the driver to touch the steering wheel or pedals. However, the driver must remain alert and ready to take over if needed.
ALKS is one of the first steps towards achieving autonomous driving technology, potentially transforming mobility, consumer behavior, and society. According to a 2021 McKinsey consumer survey, consumers want access to autonomous driving features and are willing to pay for them. Autonomous driving systems may make driving safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable. Hours on the road previously spent driving could be used to video call a friend, watch a funny movie, or even work. For employees with long commutes, driving an autonomous car might increase worker productivity and even shorten the workday.
Autonomous driving technology could also improve mobility for elderly drivers, providing them with more options than public transportation or car-sharing services. Safety might also increase, with one study showing that the growing adoption of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in Europe could reduce the number of accidents by about 15 percent by 2030. Along with these consumer benefits, autonomous driving technology may generate additional value for the auto industry. Vehicles with lidar-based Level 2+ (L2+) capabilities contain approximately $1,500 to $2,000 in component costs, and even more for cars with Level 3 (L3) and Level 4 (L4) options.
The UK is one of many countries exploring the possibilities of autonomous driving technology. In the US, Waymo One robotaxis are already operating in some areas of Phoenix, Arizona, offering a driverless service to the public. The robotaxis uses cameras and sensors to keep the vehicle within its lane and navigate traffic. In Europe, Oxbotica is testing its driverless vehicle software in cars and delivery vehicles at several locations across the UK and Europe. The company aims to create a universal autonomy platform that can work on any vehicle in any environment.
However, many challenges and barriers still need to be overcome before autonomous driving technology can become mainstream. One of them is regulation. The UK government has set out some guidelines for ALKS, such as requiring drivers to be ready to resume control within 10 seconds if prompted by the system. However, no clear framework exists for how autonomous vehicles will be tested, certified, and insured in different countries and regions. Another challenge is public perception. Many consumers are still skeptical or fearful of autonomous driving technology, especially after some high-profile accidents involving driverless cars. A survey by AAA found that 71 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle.
Moreover, technical issues need to be solved before autonomous driving technology can reach its full potential. For example, how can autonomous vehicles cope with unpredictable human drivers who may speed or break the rules of the road? How can they handle complex scenarios such as roadwork or bad weather? How can they communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure? How can they ensure cybersecurity and data privacy? These are some of the questions researchers and developers are working on to make autonomous driving technology more reliable and trustworthy.
The UK's approval of ALKS is a milestone for autonomous driving technology, but it is not the end goal. It is part of a larger vision of creating a smarter, more sustainable transport system that benefits consumers, businesses, and society. As autonomous driving technology advances and matures, it will open up new opportunities and challenges for everyone involved. The UK is well-positioned to lead the way in this exciting field, but it must collaborate with other stakeholders and address the remaining issues to make it a reality.