Visions - Autonomous vehicles

Updated: May 26

Upload is a Sci-fi comedy set in the future that focuses on the premise that humans can upload their consciousness to a virtual world, essentially allowing people to become immortal. The idea is interesting in itself, but more interesting are its visions of future tech, from autonomous drones to computerised supermarkets. In this mini series I will focus on the feasibility of a range of different future technologies predicted in the show.


Autonomous Vehicles

The show places a large emphasis on autonomous cars and in my opinion, one of the most realistic portrayals of how they will be implemented into future society. It depicts highways crammed full of driver-less cars and shows journeys as a place of work as well as rest and relaxation. I genuinely believe this will be possible in the near future as we have made huge leaps in driver-less tech in recent years.


Let's take a look at the latest Teslas. They can operate totally autonomously on highways from the point of entry to the point of exit, managing traffic as well as lane changes. The most recent updates mean that you can even summon your car in a busy parking lot to come and pick you up. Major car manufacturers are all starting to invest heavily in this technology and competition usually leads to greater levels of innovation. IDTechEx recently released a report saying that autonomous vehicles will make up 30% of travel and be a $2.5 trillion market by 2040.


The show also places an emphasis on personal vehicles. However, in order for an ultra efficient transport system to work, I think the majority of autonomous vehicles will be on a shared platform with an on demand model, similar to the way Uber operates now but without a driver. This will mean that vehicles will spend less time parked and the majority of their time transporting passengers. In his recent Ted Talk, transport professor Nico Larco believes that this will free up precious parking land in cities and allow it to be used for other purposes, such as building accommodation as well as open spaces. Assuming the vehicles are electric, advances in battery technology will allow them to operate for longer. If those advances do not happen at the same rate, autonomous vehicles could travel to out of city charging stations.


The debate around autonomous vehicle ethics has been ongoing for the past few decades. In the world of Upload people can decide whether to prioritise pedestrian or the occupant in the event of an emergency. I think this is a little far fetched and the reality is that these decisions will be in the hands of regulators - the United Kingdom already has a government body exploring autonomous ethics amongst other autonomy related research. Considering the vast majority of accidents are caused by human error anyway, a computer at the helm coupled with advanced sensors will have much greater reactions than any human. The majority of current autonomous systems still require a driver to be behind the wheel as the technology is still not 100% proven and there have been a number of fatal crashes. As with any new technology there will be setbacks and problems to solve.


We are not at Upload's level of autonomy yet, and there are still huge political, ethical and technological barriers that will have to be broken in order to make them a reality. One thing we can all agree on though, is the tremendous benefits that they could bring, increasing mobility, protecting the environment and saving us the stress of the morning commute.




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