The future is autonomous, as you know well with your work leading StreetDrone. How do you see this space expanding?
We have lots of levels of autonomy defined by the SAE Level of Driving Autonomy. A Level Four vehicle can drive itself in a known area. These are the types of autonomous vehicles I think will become prevalent first in the next five years. StreetDrone have an ongoing project with Nissan at the Sunderland plant, where we’re taking an HGV truck that would tow a 40-tonne trailer between the distribution area and the main plant. And that will be running early next year as a prototype. There are many people coming to talk to us about applications in ports, on farms, and in other areas in a controlled environment where autonomous vehicles can be used. Logistics will be the first area where Level Four autonomous vehicles usage will start and then expand to other applications.
When it comes to Level Five “robo-taxis” – that can pick you up anywhere, drop you anywhere, take any route, through rain, hail or snow – it’s difficult to tell. Even in big OEMs, it’s hard to put a date on when this will happen.
In an autonomous future, do you think there is still space for those that seek the thrill and agency of driving?
I don’t think driving will go away completely so soon and will probably still be part of life for the next 25 years or more. But all these new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – active cruise control, active lane assist, self-parking – like that already exist make driving much easier. Even though there may be autonomous driving in logistics, a lot of these high-level ADAS ideas are moving across to road cars quite quickly in most top-level cars. You see a Tesla in LA and it can pretty much do all the low speed and traffic driving by itself.
A big American 6.8-litre V8 pickup truck to pick up a gallon of milk from the shop shouldn’t be the only option for people. At some point, we will have a last-mile autonomous electric delivery vehicle that can do so more environmentally friendly. With autonomy being introduced in all areas of mobility the need to personally drive everywhere will be reduced.