Posted by: Lydia on 5/03/2021

Category: General

Tesla Model X in three-quarter profile

The 2020s will see a number of exciting innovations in the world of cars. Arguably, none is more exciting than the transformational change the self-driving car (SDC) will deliver. Just as the arrival of the internet and the mobile phone did in decades prior, the SDC is poised to fundamentally transform how we live and work each day. But while the arrival of purpose-built SDCs will certainly be exciting, there are actually cars on our roads today that already have SDC tech within them.

For various reasons, these vehicles are not fully utilising their SDC capabilities and are still human-driven vehicles. But the tech is there, and the fact it exists even though purpose-built SDCs are still at least a couple of years away is a really exciting development. For anyone keenly awaiting the mass rollout of SDCs on our roads, the SDC tech in current cars offers an insight into what a world with driver and driverless vehicles will look like. So let’s look into how today’s cars are being prepped for their self-driving future.

The Difference Between Partial and Full SDC

First, it's important to make a distinction between the cool technology we already see today, and the sort of tech that is on the absolute cutting-edge of auto engineering. The standard measurements for vehicle automation — which range from level 0 (no driving automation) to level 5 (full driving automation) — illustrate that considerable progress has already been made,, but there remain big differences between the various levels.

For example, many existing vehicles can perform tasks such as automatic parking assist without driver assistance. While this can indeed be regarded as an SDC feature, it does not make a car an SDC. The difference between a cool but basic function like this and an SDC that's able to navigate peak hour traffic safely and do 100kms on a freeway is key. 

It’s the latter’s ability to drive without any human assistance on our roads that really represents the next summit in auto engineering. That’s why it’s so exciting to know that cars already being driven around today have the capability to enhance their SDC features via digital download and update.

Downloading the Revolution

The potential for a driver to soon ‘unlock’ SDC technology that already exists in their vehicle is an interesting concept. Fortunately, manufacturers likely won’t require immense changes in their vehicles to get them up to compliance with new regulations.

Put simply, they’ll likely just need a software update, which the car owner can download directly to their vehicle. However, any current vehicle with SDC-capable technology will still have to comply with new SDC laws even if the vehicle was driving on the road for many years before SDCs became mainstream.

Building on the Foundation

For car manufacturers like Tesla, Cadillac, Nissan and others, the drive towards a full SDC is being built on existing SDC-like capabilities. Just as Tesla’s Autopilot program is well-known, Cadillac’s Super Cruise system, Nissan’s ProPilot Assistant, and similar automation modes have been developed by engineers with a keen eye on the future

Although it’s no secret that SDCs have had their challenges in development — given the complexity of Artificial Intelligence and all the variables that can exist out on the road — the development cycles of such manufacturers do not need to be tied to a regulatory green light once purpose-built SDCs are ready to go.

Indeed, for any car manufacturer that seeks to grow their market share in the SDC era, there’s no option but to pursue ongoing progress now, instead of getting caught behind the pace once SDCs get the go-ahead. That’s why many manufacturers are developing software now that could be ready to roll out when the time is right.

Speeding Up the Pace

For Tesla in particular, the development of SDC technology that can be used in their current vehicles is a no-brainer. It helps keep current customers happy, entices new ones, and sees off the competitive threat SDC manufacturers would pose if Tesla didn’t have an SDC capability. 

But it should also be a win for consumers. Other car companies have also been working on SDC technology for years, but with Tesla becoming the richest car company in the world during mid-2020 with a US$208 billion valuation — and soaring to over US$800 billion in January 2021 — competitors will speed up further investment in SDCs in general, similar to what Tesla’s success did for electric vehicles. 

Are We There Yet?

The SDC era is not quite here yet, but it’s getting closer. Clearing regulatory hurdles will first be necessary, but in the meantime, the technology for the SDC is progressing. We’re already seeing glimpses of what this fantastic new future looks like in vehicles already on our road. Features like automatic parking assist are growing in use across the country each day, and advantages in the digital capabilities of vehicles generally confirm SDCs will be able to offer an array of exciting possibilities beyond just getting a car from A to B. 

For vehicles already on our roads with SDC technology, they’ve the potential to help bridge the gap between the current and future generation of vehicles. After all, although many Australians will eventually come to own an SDC outright, there will be many others weary to say goodbye to their current vehicles. When it comes to existing cars that are human-driven but could one day be SDCs, the work of manufacturers like Tesla offers the potential for the arrival of the SDC to be revolutionary, while also allowing drivers to retain the cars they love and own today. That’s surely a revolution that offers the best of both worlds.

Do you currently have a car with some self-driving tech? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pixabay