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Autonomous and electric: the cars of the future within reach of the steering wheel

Hybrid BMW presented at the Regent Street Motor Show in London, November 4, 2017

They will be autonomous, electric and will change our travel habits: driven by technological progress and environmental imperatives, cars of the future are no longer very far from our daily lives, but will also overcome some pitfalls.

While more and more countries are announcing the phasing out of gasoline and diesel cars, the first versions of these vehicles are already plying the roads of the world, between hybrid and partially autonomous cars.

The change also affects mentalities, and our relationships to owning a vehicle, when it is enough now to take his phone to, in just a few minutes, find a car to rent, or a driver.

For David Metz, an expert at the Center for Transport Studies at University College London, developed cities have reached a “peak” in automobiles, and are now less and less willing to make room for these vehicles once considered unavoidable.

Autonomous car in Milton Keynes, near London, October 11, 2016

“We find that high-density urban areas are more successful with less traffic,” he says, citing the ultra-busy Leicester Square in central London.

As a sign of this evolution, planners end up abandoning the 20th century grid-oriented models of the automobile.

Personal cars, often inactive 23 hours a day, are also subject to competition from car pooling, short-term rentals, and sharing of vehicles, means of transport available worldwide and boosted by mobile technologies.

– “Progress” to be made –

An electric Renault presented at the Regent Street Motor Show in London, November 4, 2017

In the long run, autonomous cars are destined to revolutionize travel.

Example? In China, urban projects are being developed to allow only the circulation of electric vehicles, autonomous and public, notes Graeme Smith, general manager of Oxbotica, a British company designing software for autonomous vehicles.

“In these cities, your life would be fundamentally different,” he told AFP.

But the sector must still “make progress”, he warned, reducing the cost of sensors that equip these cars, and improving their performance.

This does not prevent some partially autonomous cars from already driving on the roads. In the United Kingdom, vehicles with level 4 (almost total) autonomy should start entering the market in 2021.

The introduction of driverless cars could significantly reduce congestion, including the sharing of real-time information on traffic conditions.

The transition to electric vehicles is already well underway, with manufacturers ready to take up the challenge. Volvo, for example, plans to launch only electric or hybrid models starting in 2019.

“This is really the ultimate goal of the car industry,” said Eric Feunteun, director of Renault’s EV program, at a recent demonstration in Utrecht.

– Flying car? –

The initiative also comes from the states: the United Kingdom and France are planning to stop sales of petrol or diesel cars by 2040.

Or cities: London will set up a clean vehicle area in the city center in 2019, and hopes to extend the measurement beyond the center by 2021.

An electric BMW presented at the Regent Street Motor Show in London on 4 November 2017

To succeed, the cars of the future will however have to solve a series of difficulties, starting with the unequal availability of charging stations.

A deficiency “deplorable” that adds to the problems of autonomy of these vehicles, regrets the automotive journalist Matt Robinson, not convinced by the information provided by the manufacturers on this subject.

Matt Robinson also wonders about the ability of users to overcome their “fear” of being driven by machines.

To these various problems, specialists already imagine the solutions: wireless charging platforms installed under the roads, subways capable of transporting cars, or even flying drone cars.


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