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Will the driver be redundant in the cars of the future?

An audience from motoring, road safety and other sectors came together today in Dublin last week to hear expert international speakers talk about how car technology is changing the role of the driver and how increasing levels of technology in the car can have a detrimental effect on drivers’ attention levels.

Just imagine your car communicating with the road infrastructure and other road users to warn you about traffic jams or an accident up ahead; then imagine being able to stream music and video material from the internet through your car’s audio-visual system and being able to consult apps from the dashboard that provide information about restaurants, hotels or shopping options on your drive route.

One of the keynote speaker was Pim van der Jagt, Managing Director of Ford of Europe’s Research Centre in Germany. In his contributions to the Forum he said: “I don’t deny that distractions behind the wheel, however they are caused, either by technology / devices within the car or external influences, can be a serious risk to road safety overall”.

He added: “However, as part of the process of developing new automotive technologies, we are always conscious of how each new development fits into the overall picture of the driver behind the wheel. A sine qua non of all of our research and development activity is that new technology has to contribute to improving the driver experience and consequently, road safety. Any technology that does not pass this test would fall at this first hurdle and would not be developed further for use in cars.”

“It is amazing how blasé we have become about automotive technology, in particular, the fact that now even some of the smallest cars have technologies that up until a couple of years ago could only be enjoyed by a small number of drivers as they were the preserve of the more expensive luxury brands. For example, now popular mainstream cars like the Ford Focus, thanks to Active Park Assist technology, can park themselves into tight parking spots with minimal input from the driver”.

“In terms of new technologies that motorists will see in the near term, we will see the roll out of a range of services based upon a two-way vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system which will enable cars to communicate with each other about driving and traffic conditions. Using a dedicated short-range communications network, the system will also be able to communicate with similarly equipped vehicles that are out of the driver’s line of sight – for example, if a car suddenly performs an emergency stop procedure around a corner, cars coming behind could be informed in good time so that they can adapt their speed before they arrive at the scene. I believe that innovations such as this will be a welcome boost for road safety overall and will certainly help to concentrate the driver’s attention towards immediate dangers”.

“In perhaps 10 to 15 years, in addition to vehicle-to-vehicle communications, there will be a widespread use of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication whereby our cars will be able to communicate with the road infrastructure and traffic management systems with the aim of making journeys as smooth and as quick as possible and with the overall aim of reducing emissions and fuel consumption. There is currently an ongoing test project in the US where a 73 mile stretch of highway is equipped with a range of roadside installations that communicate with specially equipped vehicles and this year-long project will provide much valuable data as the system is developed for more widespread use.”

The question posed was: Will the driver be redundant in the cars of the future? I hope not, butevery additional feature that can be added to improve the safety of drivers, passengers, and other road users, is very important and welcome.

The 2013 Automotive Forum was organised by the Irish Motoring Writers Association (IMWA) and sponsored by Continental Tyres.