Ultra-publicised, the driverless car still has a way to go

The Geneva show closes the doors on its 86th edition but the debate around driverless cars remains more topical than ever. Certain manufacturers display their ambition to have a driverless car on the road by 2030 or thereabouts. The technology is developing fast but regulations are not ready to authorise driverless cars on public highways. Although certain manufacturers acknowledge their involvement in the event of an accident, it will be necessary to define liabilities clearly with regard to accidents.

Driverless car: from virtual to reality in just a few years

A “driverless car” is a car capable of moving by itself without a driver or with more or less assistance from the latter.

The first world congress on driver assistance systems was held in 1994. The researchers displayed their ambitions at that event: develop anti-collision systems before 1999! During this congress, Mercedes-Benz gives a demonstration in Paris of two driverless vehicles controlled by software and capable of driving in lane, changing lanes and overtaking with a top speed of 130 kph.

As soon as 2012, the first Google Cars are authorised to run on the highways of Nevada. The United States nevertheless impose driving licenses for driverless cars on automobile manufacturers allowing the driver to take over control of the vehicle at any time.

Technologies and legislation that must continue to evolve…

Beyond legislation, the development of driverless cars has required equipment manufacturers to take up technological challenges, particularly concerning the range capacities of automotive radar systems.

Overall, three types of radar technology equip the vehicles:

  • Cameras.
  • Ultrasonic radars.
  • Laser range finder (LiDAR).

Ranges are limited to 100 metres for cameras and 200 metres for ultrasonic radars. The laser beam, for its part, is approximately one million times faster than ultrasound and is therefore much better adapted to use of driverless vehicles.

In order to develop, driverless vehicles therefore need new radar technologies, means of communication between vehicles, accurate embedded maps and a reliable network to ensure inter-connection.

In addition to developing in-vehicle technologies, manufacturers are therefore seeking to pool the data recorded by the different sensors in driverless vehicles in order to create a driverless vehicle “network” and thus multiply the amount of information transmitted. The mission of ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) and CEN (European Committee for Standardization), certified bodies, is to standardise a protocol common to each vehicle.


…to allow boarding around 2030!

The shift from conventional vehicles to fully automated vehicles is classified in 5 phases:

  • Phase 0: No automation.
  • Phase 1: Driver assistance.
  • Phase 2: Partial automation.
  • Phase 3: Conditional automation.
  • Phase 4: High level of automation.
  • Phase 5: Full automation.

Development of driverless vehicles has currently reached phase 3. Level 5, i.e. a vehicle capable of driving without a driver, is not currently authorised by French regulations. Its arrival is forecasted for 2030 or thereabouts.

Changes in regulations and the automobile fleet due to the arrival of fully automated vehicles are therefore not imminent but are nevertheless highly publicised.

Beyond the technological challenge and encouraging results, it will remain to define new regulations relative to the driverless vehicle and anticipate social and economic problems in the automobile sector.

Sébastien Elie
Automotive risks loss adjuster, GM Consultant Group

Bertrand Boiron
Automotive risks loss adjuster, GM Consultant Group