30 Oct
Will tech take over and future vehicles become autonomous or driverless?

More than a concept: Driverless shuttles hit the road in Europe

The driverless car has been around as a concept for quite some time. However, due to a whole raft of legalities that requires vehicles to have human hands ready to jump in if the tech goes wrong, a truly autonomous vehicle is yet to hit public roads.

Until now.

In the Netherlands, one company has been developing a driverless shuttle that has been given the green light to enter highways and byways as it sees fit. To begin with, the 'WEpods' will shuttle people between the city of Ede and Wageningen University, as reported by the BBC.

The technologies used by the WEpods are relevant in the here and now.

The way of the future

While the vehicles are kitted out with a whole plethora of lasers, sensors, safety features and will have no actual steering wheel or physical driver, the human element remains in keeping them on the straight and narrow.

For example, if the automated system senses an issue, or if one of the passengers presses a panic button, a person at a centralised control centre can remotely command the WEpods. To begin with, they will not run at night or in adverse conditions, but the experiment does offer a glimpse of the future.

Even though the WEpods can only hit a speed of around 25 kilometres per hour, the fact that they have effectively been legalised and will be travelling on public roads may be looked back on as a groundbreaking development in some years to come.

Tomorrow's technology relevant today

So, what could this mean for fleet managers and casual drivers alike in New Zealand? Are the roads set to be filled with robotic vehicles that buzz around at their own accord? Well, that future may still be several decades away, but the technologies used by the WEpods are relevant in the here and now.

For example, similar radar technologies have already been implemented into a number of the most up-to-date cruise control systems. For professional drivers who spend hours behind the wheel, such creature comforts can make the whole experience much more pleasant.

In fact, the way in which such systems regulate the vehicles speed can even help in efforts to harness superior economy, and get the most from those fuel card purchases.

Ultimately, driverless cars, vans and trucks may be some way off as a widespread prospect, on New Zealand's roads as well as those around the world. However, the technologies used to make vehicles that much more autonomous looks as though they're already helping keep the driving experience easy in the here and now.