Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Pakistan Protests: Democracy put the test (Part One)

Read more

ENCORE!

The French Maestro of Soul

Read more

FOCUS

US tobacco giants want lion's share of e-cigarette business

Read more

ENCORE!

Bold and bonkers: Kate Bush is back on stage

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Simon Serfaty, US foreign policy specialist

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'It's a War, Stupid!'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

French PM calls on ECB to go further to help economy

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'I love the Socialists'

Read more

WEB NEWS

Ukraine: Web users call for international assistance

Read more

  • Ukrainian forces retreat from Luhansk airport after clashes

    Read more

  • Teddy Riner, France’s unstoppable judo champion

    Read more

  • French education ministry picture sparks racist abuse

    Read more

  • French police arrest hungry hedgehog hunters

    Read more

  • US urges Israel to reverse West Bank land seizure

    Read more

  • UN backs inquiry of IS group’s alleged crimes in Iraq

    Read more

  • Tripoli under control of militias, says government

    Read more

  • Iraqi forces free Amerli in biggest victory over IS militants since June

    Read more

  • Monaco’s Falcao set for Man Utd loan on transfer deadline day

    Read more

  • Spain orders custody for parents of ill British boy

    Read more

  • Anti-government protesters storm Pakistan's state TV

    Read more

  • Putin calls for talks on 'statehood' for east Ukraine

    Read more

  • Poland marks 75 years since German invasion of WWII

    Read more

  • Israel appropriates large tracts of West Bank land

    Read more

  • Rescue efforts under way after French apartment block blast

    Read more

  • Web doc on French self-immolation protests takes top prize

    Read more

Really smart cars are ready to take the wheel

AFP

A Range Rover Evoque equipped with Valeo self-parking technology backs into a parking spot during a driverless car demo at the International CES in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014A Range Rover Evoque equipped with Valeo self-parking technology backs into a parking spot during a driverless car demo at the International CES in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014

A Range Rover Evoque equipped with Valeo self-parking technology backs into a parking spot during a driverless car demo at the International CES in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014A Range Rover Evoque equipped with Valeo self-parking technology backs into a parking spot during a driverless car demo at the International CES in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014

Why waste your time looking for a place to park when your car can do it for you? An idea that was pure science fiction only a few years ago is becoming reality thanks to automatic robot cars.

A car with no one on board drives into a car park at walking pace, lets a pedestrian pass, and then backs into a narrow parking space without the merest bump or scrape.

The technology that makes this possible has been developed by the Swedish car company Volvo and the French parts maker Valeo. It is still at the prototype stage but could be widely available within six years.

Some cars are already able to drive themselves in certain circumstances. The Mercedes CLS coupe brakes by itself when the driver fails to react to the risk of an accident. Some BMW models also warn drivers they are about to go over the white line and they can go onto automatic pilot in traffic jams.

"Lots of the technology is already out there," said Guillaume Devauchelle, director of Research and Development at Valeo. "But now we are at a turning point." Rapid progress in radar and detection camera technology now allows cars to "see" things going on around them. Onboard computers analyse road conditions and make the car react accordingly.

Which means that car makers believe that they will have models on the market capable of driving by themselves by 2020, and utterly autonomous robot cars by 2030.

This could radically cut mortality, said Franck Cazenave, marketing director at the parts maker Bosch, since "90 percent of accidents are caused by human error".

- Who to blame for an accident? -

There are other benefits too. As soon as cars begin to talk to one another, and with the computers running the road system, traffic will run more smoothly with huge savings on fuel.

According to Sebastien Amichi, an expert at consultants Roland Berger, after 2030 there could be "fleets of vehicles available 24/7 that will come to pick you up where ever you want, and do so with amazing efficiency".

These really smart cars will also make travel that much more comfortable, their supporters claim. "Drivers won't have to drive so they will have that time for themselves," says Cazenave. They will be able to read, surf the net, or even have a nap -- which is why not only car markers have been attracted by the possibilities this offers.

Google has been testing fully automatic Japanese cars for the last five years and is even making its own electric driverless cars that make us of its Internet and mapping expertise.

Even so, others in the industry such as Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan, argue that car-marking is an art not everyone could pull off.

And, of course, there is the prohibitive cost of the technology. The radar system alone on a Google car is said to cost 60,000 euros ($82,000), without counting existing auto-pilot technology that costs thousands of euros.

"What is still holding us up is the quality of the sensors and of artificial intelligence," Ford has admitted. And though everyone thinks that the next decade will see automatic robot cars driving on their own on motorways and in car parks, having them in the middle of urban traffic with pedestrians and cyclists, is another question. The big issue is who is to blame if there is an accident.

Before tackling this thorny question, governments will have to change road safety laws which demand that every driver "must be in control of their vehicle".

As for the drivers themselves, some will undoubtedly be happy to hand over the wheel. Others though will be reluctant to put their lives in the hands of a computer -- not to mention foreswearing for ever the pleasure of putting their foot to the floor.

Date created : 2014-07-17