“Why self-driving cars will need human back-up”

Self-driving cars are on the way, but deputy editor John McIlroy thinks they will never be truly autonomous

Opinion - autonomous cars

When autonomous cars really do allow us to take our hands off the wheel, will they really be able to cope with every on-road situation? This was one of the topics raised last week during a fascinating day of presentations on the future of the car, organised by the Financial Times.

One of the event’s most interesting presenters was Maarten Sierhuis, who leads Nissan’s research centre in Silicon Valley. You might expect someone who once wrote software for NASA to be a firm believer in artificial intelligence and processor power. But in fact, Sierhuis and his team argue that a key feature of autonomous vehicles will be the ability for them to call on a human for back-up.

All you need to know about self-driving cars

In the end, the relationship may be similar to the one between jet airliners and air traffic controllers, who can provide guidance and transmit instructions to the crew and, in many cases, the plane itself.

In Sierhuis’s vision, if a self-driving car – like the Leaf prototype that demonstrated Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility earlier this year – comes across an obstacle it doesn’t know how to deal with, it’ll beam information and images back to a command centre for a human being to examine.

The operator can then ‘paint’ a suitable course of action on to a high-definition map and send that back to the car – as well as any other autonomous vehicles in the area, allowing them to be better prepared for the same scenario. “It’ll be impossible,” Sierhuis says, “to have autonomous vehicles driving around without them ever needing help.”

It sounds clunky, and a little less sci-fi than what’s been promised so far. But this grounded approach is likely to reassure anyone who’s had misgivings about how this bleeding-edge tech can ever be phased into roads that still regularly throw up the unexpected.

Are you looking forward to the arrival of truly autonomous cars? Let us know below...

Recommended

'The Land Rover Defender and Aston Martin DBX must be front runners for World Car Design of the Year'
Opinion

'The Land Rover Defender and Aston Martin DBX must be front runners for World Car Design of the Year'

Mike Rutherford thinks cars from Gerry McGovern and Marek Reichman are favourites to win design award
30 Aug 2020
'VW Group management shake-up could be crucial to the car choice facing UK buyers'
Opinion

'VW Group management shake-up could be crucial to the car choice facing UK buyers'

Deputy editor John McIlroy points to outgoing Skoda boss as a key reason for the firm's success
15 Jul 2020
"Despite the tragedy of 2020 so far, several intriguing developments emerged in the final week of June"
Opinion

"Despite the tragedy of 2020 so far, several intriguing developments emerged in the final week of June"

Mike Rutherford recounts some significant stories that may have passed you by in recent weeks
12 Jul 2020
'Sorry Jeep, but Kia now makes the best all-American SUV'
Kia

'Sorry Jeep, but Kia now makes the best all-American SUV'

With Kia winning the World Car of the Year 2020 award with the American-built Telluride, Mike Rutherford believes Kia has beaten Jeep at their own gam…
18 Apr 2020

Most Popular

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp
BMW 3 Series M3 Coupe

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp

The new sixth-generation BMW M3 Competition saloon gets a 503bhp straight-six engine and four-wheel-drive
22 Sep 2020
New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range
Volkswagen ID.4

New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range

The new Tiguan-sized Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV becomes VW’s second ID. model, rivalling the Tesla Model Y
23 Sep 2020
New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range
Land Rover Range Rover Velar

New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range

Land Rover has given the Range Rover Velar an update, with a new plug-in hybrid powertrain and an improved infotainment system
23 Sep 2020