Are our roads ready for autonomous vehicles?

It’s an exciting time for the future of transport, with driverless cars expected to be on the roads of Britain by the end of 2021. With the UK leading the way, it is predicted the industry will provide an economic boost of £62billion by 2030, which will certainly be welcomed considering recent uncertainty. Sharing our roads with these autonomous vehicles is now inevitable, and whether you’re on board, or you see this as the beginning of Dalek-esque robots taking over the world, it’s certainly going to bring some interesting and challenging times for engineers across the globe. With this new technology inhabiting our infrastructure in the not-to-distant future, it’s essential our current road systems are up to task. It is our job to design creatively, finding solutions to our ever-adapting environment, but what changes are required in this new era beyond manual drive cars?

The biggest challenge will be in the infancy of their introduction, with most people still driving manual cars, our infrastructure will need to support both. At a very basic level, there needs to be decision around the future of road markings across the globe. The self-drive vehicles currently only understand the line markings of one system they have been programmed for and therefore it has been suggested a standardised global marking system needs to be created allowing autonomous vehicles to drive anywhere. Road layouts and signage are currently designed with humans in mind and would need to be adapted to ensure a safe environment for all transportation. Sensors and signals are the main communication tools built into the technology, and the application of such needs to be considered in-depth to enable harmonious driving between all road users. Typically, a human driver will indicate to pull out, encouraging other road users to slow down, which overall improves the ebb and flow of traffic. Autonomous vehicles will only pull into already available space, potentially increasing congestion and traffic build up.

With many more considerations to work through there’s no doubting we have interesting times ahead, and most certainly good engineering minds are going to be vital in design through to implementation. We for one are excited to see the shape of the world in another decade or two… hoverboards anyone?

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