Debate: Driverless cars
Professor of innovation and new product development
Profile: Keith Goffin
Keith Goffin is professor of innovation and new product development at Cranfield School of Management with a special interest in breakthrough products. His latest book is ‘Identifying Hidden Needs’, available from Palgrave MacMillan.
Director of design
Profile: Marek Reichman
Marek Reichman has been director of design at Aston Martin for eight years and has been involved with some of the world’s most iconic cars, including the Rolls-Royce Phantom, and the Lincoln MKX and Navicross concept cars.
Opportunities being developed by software to control vehicles, even going so far as to deliver driverless vehicles, are going to add a spectrum of possibility for drivers today. But it’s going to be sector-specific and it will depend on what you are looking for.
Many people when they are driving are really only looking to get from A to B in the easiest way, and there is definitely a benefit for them if they can do something else instead of driving. In that sense, driveless cars will make being in a car a more relaxing experience, more akin to being in a train (if the train’s not too full, that is).
If we are commuting to, or navigating around, a big city, driving can be stressful. Now, if emerging car technology can reduce stress and increase safety then we are clearly on to a good thing. But this is a specific need. At other times - say, I want to go out for a recreational drive in the countryside in my open-top sportscar in the summer - well that’s very different and I won’t want a driverless vehicle to tell me how to enjoy myself. But for the day to day stuff, I want one.
The greatest benefit is that we can re-use the time spent in the car more productively. If you are on the train you can do your work, and so will you be able to in your car. You’ll be able to avoid congestion and there will be a lot of green effects. Mercedes have already found a way of linking trucks together with their ‘electronic tow-bar,’ with one truck in the wind shadow of another. This reduces fuel consumption while also allowing the second ‘driver’ to do something other than driving. If there are three trucks linked in this way and with any two drivers at any given point either resting or asleep, we can see how mass transit can operate 24/7. Linking cars together like this adds possibilities, especially in urban areas where there is such a waste of time and fuel.
More of the global population is now living in the urban environment than ever before and one of the consequences of that is congestion. It is an infamous statistic that the average speed of travel in London is at its lowest for a hundred years and will probably drop. If you look at how the ‘Boris Bikes’ have provided an alternative method of getting around the city for the consumer, you could imagine a future where the same applies to cars.
I have an application on my phone that allows me to call a London taxi, but wouldn’t it be great if I could hail a car in that way? I’d no longer need to own a car, and so there will be no cost of ownership, no driving to be done and no being at the mercy of the incompetence of another driver. It’s going to be a while before we get there on the technology curve, but when we do it will lead to a reduction of traffic on the road and our average speeds will increase as our journey times decrease.
One of the most common objections to the scenario I’m describing is that a city full of driverless cars will result in carnage, a free-for-all that looks something like the dodgems when the fair comes to town. If you cast your mind back to when Stansted Airport was built everyone was horrified by the innovation of driverless trains. But no one’s worried about that now. Of course, the technology will be different for cars, and the issues at stake on the road are more complex. But when you think of the level control software has reached in, say, power stations, then we’ll have no real problems in future.
Mercedes has another emerging technology where software monitors the performance of the driver and which can trigger warnings when, say, the steering is not up to standard. It is a natural extension of this that we’ll end up not having to do the steering at all. And so we will find that in complex situations, where full concentration is required, the driverless car will take over and I will be more than happy to sit back, read a book, write some emails and enjoy the view. It’s always so much better to be a passenger.
Technology is, clearly, an integral part of every modern car on the road today. In a world of continuous development and improvement, the ‘flat earth’ contention that technological advancement should be frozen at an arbitrary point in time clearly cannot stand. The use of the latest safety technologies, created to protect car occupants and pedestrians, cannot be coherently argued against.
Similarly, developments in engine and exhaust design and technology, which improve performance, aid economy and reduce emissions, are an undeniable benefit. Indeed, where and when appropriate, Aston Martin is an enthusiastic adopter of the most modern and advanced technology available. The cutting-edge haptic feedback centre console in the Vanquish Coupe and forthcoming Vanquish Volante, for instance, clearly demonstrate the brand’s dedication to using the latest technologies appropriately.
However, as a maker of luxurious bespoke sports cars, a key ingredient in any Aston Martin is the experience it delivers to its driver. The idea that the brand would create a sports car in which the driver was required to offer minimal or no input into the process of driving - beyond the requirement of actually being present in the car - simply does not accord with the Aston Martin ethos.
The experience of driving an Aston Martin is in no small part the secret of the brand’s enduring appeal. Think of it, perhaps, like this: listening to your favourite symphony via an MP3 is a pleasant experience, but listening to it played live by a world-class orchestra in a great concert hall is an experience of an entirely different magnitude.
Our rich 100-year heritage of sports car manufacture, unparalleled in the modern motoring world, illustrates why the brand is famous worldwide for the quality and desirability of its cars. Over the last ten decades we have meticulously created sports cars that engage the senses - the feel, sound, look and, indeed, smell of an Aston Martin engross the senses in a way that should never fail to delight.
Driving an Aston Martin is an emotional treat. It generates feelings of excitement, pleasure and joy that form part of the unique experience. Involvement in driving the car stems from having control. Surrendering that control could dilute the sensory and emotional experience that is a key part of Aston Martin ownership.
Of course, in many ways, technology can aid and amplify the experience. Hydraulic power-assisted steering, as an example, can support the convenience of city driving while, when sympathetically engineered, it will not detract from more focused sports car use.
Technology, in an Aston Martin context, is there to support the driver, rather than replace him, or her. New features must be introduced in such a way as to support the look of the car, rather than overpower it. Innovations should not necessarily be seen as a new ‘feature’ of the car but, rather, an adjunct to the existing design.
Finally, it must be stressed that potential innovations such as the ‘driverless car’ could well play an important role in the future of mass transportation. In a world of multi-tasking, when many of us are required to wring every last ounce of productivity out of the day, the ultimate convenience of door-to-door travel without the need for driver involvement could well play an interesting role.
However Aston Martin, by its very nature, is not engaged in the design and manufacture of mass transit vehicles. Our sports cars remain some of the most exclusive and desirable in the world. In 100 years we have made fewer than 70,000 cars - roughly the number of cars that a mass-market manufacturer is capable of building in only a few days. Bespoke luxury, high performance and engaging design are a few of the hallmarks of the Aston Martin brand and are among the reasons why so many people around the world aspire to own one of our cars.
Do you agree?
A future with driverless cars on the road is one to embrace
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