The Mercedes-Benz A-Class: What can we say other than what a truly amazing piece of automotive engineering.
According to some UK media outlets, the UK is in ‘pole position’ and already leading the world to a driverless future. Multiple headlines over recent months have promised autonomous vehicles will be on our roads by the end of this year, or maybe by 2021; it depends on which papers and websites you follow.
Driverless car investment and testing
Certainly, the UK government has been investing in the technology needed for autonomous vehicles. A grant of £8.6 million was given by Innovate UK to a consortium led by Oxbotica – an autonomous car developer – to run trials of their vehicle in the UK late last year. So the political will is certainly there.
Driverless car testing is also taking place around the UK, from London, Hounslow, to the streets of Oxford and Milton Keynes, driverless cars are being put to the test both with and without humans behind the wheel.
Driverless car development
However, it’s not just the political will that’s needed to make autonomous vehicles a reality on our roads. The development of reliable, robust and affordable technology to enable autonomous vehicles to work safely is also needed, along with the necessary infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.
Several automotive and technology companies are racing to get their driverless cars on the roads before the competition and there’s big money at stake for the winners. The autonomous vehicle market is expected to grow from $54.23 billion this year to $556.67 billion in 2026, according to Allied Market Research.
Mercedes-Benz carmaker Daimler has teamed up with BMW and recently announced a goal to unveil driverless robot taxis early next decade. They’ve secured licences to test their self-driving cars on public roads in Germany, China and the USA too; making them the first foreign company to gain such permissions in China.
Volvo has already developed level 2+ driverless vehicles using Nvidia’s Drive AGX Xavier computer to power their system. These are expected to go into mass production early next year. Nvidia, Continental, Oxbotica, Addison Lee and a number of other companies are also working on their own driverless car technology.
An independent review of driverless cars in the UK
While our government and media might tout the UK as leading the pack in terms of a driverless future; one study, looking into the four key areas needed to make this possible disagreed.
After ranking countries for government support and oversight, excellent motorway infrastructure, large-scale innovation and general consumer acceptance, the UK wasn’t anywhere near the top. In fact, out of the 20 countries reviewed, the UK came a middling 10th with The Netherlands, Singapore and Japan winning the top three spots.
Given the various elements needed to put the UK in pole position to lead the world to a driverless future, it would seem there’s a lot more work that needs doing.
With all the talk in the news about the UK leading the driverless car race, have you ever wondered what technology is used to enable an autonomous vehicle to see? How will these cars of the future navigate the roads, obey the road rules and differentiate between a pheasant and a child running across their path?
Dozens of automotive and tech companies are working to bring driverless cars to our roads. From luxury car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz to the Google car, the race is clearly on and has been running for at least the last five years. There’s a lot to get to grips with – driving control is just a small (and possibly the easiest) part of the puzzle. Enabling a driverless car to see and make sense of what it sees is one of the problems that have engineers and programmers scratching their heads. Below we take a look at the three main types of vision technology for driverless cars.
Starting with the technology that most of us are familiar with, cameras are generally placed on the roof, sides and bumpers of the vehicle. A dozen or more 3D cameras can be used, and sometimes placed in stereo, to see the surroundings – traffic lights, roads signs and the like. They can see in enough detail to recognise a child running onto the road, but they can only see in daylight or what is lit up by your headlights. So they’re only as good as you or me in poor weather conditions.
Used in cars for around two decades now for driver assistance packages, radar is reliable and unhindered by bad weather. It can detect obstacles from 160 metres away, or more, along with the speed and direction they are travelling. It can’t figure out what objects actually are though, so not so great for assisting with map building or object recognition.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) uses pulsed lasers to measure distances from it to objects around it. Shooting up to 1,000,000 pulses per second, the LiDAR system calculates how long each pulse takes to return, thus creating a map of static and mobile objects around it. It works in day or night conditions and some systems an also detect speed and direction of moving objects. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work nearly as well in rain or fog as the light can be bounced back from the water particles in the air and secondly, most LiDAR sensor systems are prohibitively expensive although various tech companies are working to build reliable and less expensive systems.
Making Sense of the Data
Most car manufacturers venturing into the driverless car arena are using a combination of all the sensors described above, or at least two. Elon Musk of Tesla has famously poo-hoed LiDar, but for now, he’s pretty much on his own.
Regardless of which sensors are used and in what combination, what’s done with the information collected is when things really get interesting. Making sense of the continuous flow of visual input requires a process that some refer to as sensor fusion and others might call Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). Regardless of the name or acronym used, the driverless car needs to process the information from the numerous sensors to understand what surrounds it, where it is in regards to those surroundings, the importance of various objects detected (e.g.: small child Vs pheasant) and the best path to get from A to B. Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and computer neural pathways all come into their own when trying to solve that problem for driverless cars.
The decision to get behind the wheel of a new car is a big one, and there is more to consider than the actual car. Transport is one of the highest areas of expenditure for Brits, with 14% of our income being spent on this; housing costs come a close second. If you’re in the market for a new car, it’s worth weighing up your options – and not just between makes and models. How you decide to get behind the wheel can have a massive impact on your pocket. Below we take a look at the pros and cons of owning a car, and the different ways to drive the car of your dreams.
Buying Your Own Car Outright
If the idea of saving up tens of thousands for a new car is laughable, you’ll probably consider some sort of finance option. Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) is the most popular choice, although Hire Purchase (HP) and taking out a bank loan are also options.
PCP means you get behind the wheel for a fixed monthly payment. Similar to a lease agreement, you’ll be expected to pay an upfront fee, return the car in a good condition at the end of the period, agree to only travel a fixed number of miles each year and you might incur extra charges if you collect any bumps or scrapes. If you decide to keep the vehicle, you’ll need to make a final balloon payment.
HP, on the other hand, is a little more like a mortgage on a house. You pay an initial deposit and agree to pay the rest in monthly instalments – plus interest. Once everything is paid up, the car is yours, so there’s no need to worry about bumps and scrapes, the condition the back seat gets in when the children are eating ice-cream or a final balloon payment.
A bank loan is pretty similar to the HP option, except there’s no initial deposit. Travel as far and wide as you like, all the bank wants is the regular monthly payment, even if you write the car off and are left without wheels.
Owning a car means you’re liable for the cost of maintenance, repairs, insurance, road tax and if you decide to sell the car when you’re done (if it’s yours) you’ll also swallow the depreciation loss.
Consider Leasing a New Car
If you want to keep your monthly payments low and have no intention of driving the same car for the next decade, leasing could be the best and most cost-effective option for you.
Leasing a Mercedes-Benz C-Class Saloon over a three-year period costs around a third of what a PCP agreement would – and the restrictions are pretty much the same. However, with a lease agreement from Mercedes on Lease, you’ll also be covered for road tax, roadside assistance and have a warranty for the entirety of the agreement*.
Owning a car, the Pros and Cons
- The car is yours
- You can drive as far as you want
- You can customise your wheels and be unconcerned with scratches, bumps and condition
- You have the option of keeping your car for years or trading it in for another when you like
- There are no end of agreement charges (PCP not applicable)
- The car is yours, along with maintenance, repairs and road tax costs
- You’ll have to pay for a yearly MOT
- You’ll be responsible for selling or disposing of it when you want something else
- There will be post-warranty repair costs
- When it comes to selling, you’ll lose money
The Pros and Cons of Leasing a Car
- Monthly payments are typically lower than finance options
- You’ll get to experience the thrill of a new car every few years
- You’ll be protected by the manufacturer’s warranty
- You’ll be covered for road tax, roadside assistance and MOTs
- You can elect to include maintenance
- You needn’t worry about resale value
- The car is not yours
- You have to maintain the vehicle to a reasonable standard inside and out
- You’ll need a regular income source to cover payments
- You’ll have an agreed limit to mileage