Driverless cars: are they already on a road near you?

By John Aloy: Managing Partner for Passenger Services, Telefónica UK

What’s on the road ahead?

It’s a question many of us ask ourselves. Working in telecommunications, it’s a tricky one to answer. Change is constant and ever-evolving technology means that tomorrow could look very different from today. But I think that’s half the fun.

The world of travel and transport is no different. Although I wouldn’t quite describe myself as a petrolhead, what with my car running on electric, I do like my cars – and the buzz around driverless cars is revving up. In a recent speech, the Queen revealed the Modern Transport Bill which should pave the way for driverless cars to take to UK roads within four years.

So what changes can we expect to see? As 90% of road accidents are caused by driver error, driverless cars should prevent collisions and fatalities, and open up new opportunities for safer and more efficient driving.[1] Fully autonomous “bumper-to-bumper” cars could reduce traffic and increase lane capacity by up to 500%.[2] There would be no need for urban parking spaces, as driverless cars could simply park themselves to drop you off, then drive out of town without you. And when you need picking up you, you can just text your car to come and get you. What’s more, people without driving licences could be granted an independence to travel that they have never had before. Not to mention avoiding the despair caused by the M25 on what seems like a bi-daily basis!

While this sounds pretty great, these benefits can only be realised through improvements to infrastructure. Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technology needs to be developed and tested in detail. An added knock-on impact will be that when travellers no longer have to worry about driving, they will be looking to do more on the move and make the most of their travelling time – so better connectivity will be essential.

That’s why we’re doing our bit at O2.

We’re partnering with a range of transport providers to develop connected transport solutions. We’re part of the GATEway consortium, an £8 million project funded by industry and Innovate UK and led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), that’s testing autonomous vehicles to understand their impact. We’re working on Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M), and Smart City technologies. And we’re continuing our 4G roll out, growing our O2 Wifi network, and investing in the research and development of 5G.

Although no one really knows what the future holds, driverless cars, trains and tubes are coming to a road or rail near you. And by putting people first we will support drivers, passengers and travel organisations every step of the way.

Excited? Concerned? Indifferent? How do you feel about driverless cars? Tweet me @john_aloy, and find out more about our work on travel and transport on our website.

[1] http://www.nature.com/news/autonomous-vehicles-no-drivers-required-1.16832
[2] http://home.isr.uc.pt/~pedro/T-ITS-11-02-0065.pdf