Ford plans EU trials of self-driving cars in 2017

December 03, 2016

Ford is to carry out autonomous vehicle trials from hubs in the UK and Germany from 2017.

The move is part of its strategy to launch a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle for ride-hailing services by 2021.

Tests have been carried out on Californian highways so far and the European trials will focus on key differences and challenges, including traffic signs, road layouts and the high proportion of cyclists in some cities.

Ford has researched 5,000 European consumers to understand their attitudes to autonomous cars and how they would be used.

Drivers said they would use the time normally spent driving to relax while the car takes over, use the phone or eat.

The poll also showed an autonomous car would be a designated driver after nights out and parties, while 16% of parents said they would allow a driverless car to take their children to school on its own.

However, the promise of autonomous driving is a long way from reality. There are ongoing safety fears relating to how autonomous cars will react in unexpected situations.

This has been highlighted in the US, where officials have raised concern about General Motors’ semi-autonomous Super Cruise system, planned for launch in 2017.

Worries centre around what happens if a driver does not take back control of the car when asked to, while it is travelling in semi-autonomous mode.

After several on-screen warnings, the General Motors system will slowly bring the car to a halt ‘in or near the road’. It also turns on the car’s hazard lights.

Authorities are concerned about the car coming to a halt in the road, as that increases the risk of a serious accident.

General Motors points out that this situation would be ‘very rare’ and only occur after various warnings if the vehicle decided it was the safest thing to do.

The problem is that unless every vehicle is completely autonomous, it is difficult to predict how human drivers will behave in every potential scenario, either in the affected car or in other vehicles.

Researchers have warned that people quickly adapt to autonomous vehicles and trust them to take control of driving. However, this means they pay much less attention to the road, as Ford’s research suggests, so if the car suddenly calls for them to take back control, they may panic and be unable to respond quickly.

To minimise risks on the road, dealers are set to play a vital role in ensuring consumers understand the abilities and limitations of self-driving technology in the latest generation of cars.

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