First UK self-driving cars revealed for 2018 road trials

The future is just around the corner. The DRIVEN project has announced the first three self-driving cars that it will be using to trial this innovative technology over the next two years on UK roads. The cars will be driven on public roads around Oxford initially. They they will make trips from Oxford to London. DRIVEN is hoping that the cars will have made several journeys between Oxford and London by 2019.

The government has backed the project with £8.9 million of funding. The trials also have industry support, and will eventually involve six self-driving cars taking to the roads.

Self-driving models revealed

The cars will have “Level 4 autonomy.” This means that they will travel without a driver for the majority of the time and can work without human input. The first three cars to be revealed are a white and blue 2014 Ford Fusion Titanium hybrid, a 2017 Ford Mondeo hybrid, and a Range Rover Evoque.

Each car will be decorated with the DRIVEN livery. They will be clearly branded to make other drivers and pedestrians aware of their presence. This is important, as many people have said that they have a lack of trust in self-driving cars. Making them eye-catching and obvious will hopefully encourage people to accept that they are on the roads.

(Credit – Oxbotica)

Making the self-driving cars stand out will also ensure that drivers and pedestrians are not shocked when they see one driving by, or stopped at lights or a junction, without a driver behind the wheel. In fact, people who live in the areas where the cars are being tested are already becoming familiar with the way that they look.

How do self-driving cars work?

The cars use Oxbotica’s software, Selenium, alongside a number of LIDAR sensors, computers, and cameras, to help them make their way around without human input. This combination of technology means that self-driving cars can gather and use information about their surroundings to work out where to drive and what to avoid.

Selenium was not specifically designed for cars – it also works on forklifts and cargo pods. It combines knowledge of its location with information about the local environment to create a safe path and determine the speed that it should be moving at to complete a safe journey.

By using cameras and lasers to work out where it is on the map, Selenium doesn’t require GPS. It can work out its location no matter what time of day it is, even if the weather is terrible. It uses sensors and algorithms to identify and track any obstacles that are around, including cars and pedestrians. Selenium can then work out a safe and efficient route using this information.

As Selenium doesn’t require GPS, it can work efficiently indoors and outdoors, over ground or underground. This makes it ideal for self-driving cars. The software has been created to give vehicles the intelligence to perform a variety of tasks without the help of a human, including motion control, braking, navigation, and detecting obstacles.

Laser technology

A LIDAR sensor is one that typically sits on the roof of a vehicle and produces a laser. It measures how long it takes for the laser to return in order to work out its surroundings. The sensor spins around to get a 360 degree view, making it ideal for self-driving cars.

Currently being tested at RACE’s AV test facility in Oxfordshire, the cars have been learning how to navigate roundabouts, handle tricky junctions, and cope with pedestrians and other vehicles.

The news of the self-driving cars follows the recent revelation that self-driving lorries will be loose on the UK’s major roads by 2019. Progress is marching ever forward, showing just how soon we could become used to sharing our roads with vehicles that don’t require a human presence behind the wheel.

How do you feel about self-driving vehicles? Are they the way of the future, or are we just using technology for technology’s sake? Leave a comment below to share your views. 

Are car vending machines the future?

Buying a car is soon to become “as easy as buying a can of Coke.” Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba is due to launch its first car vending machine next year.

This new development will allow potential customers to browse available cars on their smartphones. Pressing ‘buy now’ will release the car that they’re interested in.

Can anyone buy one?

Unfortunately not… the system will be connected to financial information so that Alibaba can access data on the interested customer’s credit rating. If their score is high enough, the customer will be able to pay a 10% deposit and drive the car away.

Following this, the new owner will be required to pay monthly instalments, as with any finance plan. What they won’t have to do is sit through a variety of conversations in a car showroom and fill out reams of paperwork in order to get their new vehicle.

Successful trials

Similar car vending machines have already been trialled. For example, Autobahn Motors recently opened a futuristic, 15-storey showroom in Singapore, which holds cars in 60 slots. Potential customers can release them by selecting their favourite on a touchscreen on the ground floor. The car arrives within two minutes, so that the customer can view it.

Meanwhile, US company Carvana uses an eight-floor tower to sell cars in San Antonio, Texas. This also resembles a giant car vending machine.

This method of selling cars is becoming increasingly popular. It reduces both staff and storage costs, thus saving companies money. It also gives those brave enough to innovate a very interesting selling approach to market to their target audience!

(Vending in trial in Singapore – Autobahn Motors/Facebook)

The history of car buying

Until the late 1990s, people could only buy cars through dealerships, or from a private seller. Both processes come with their fair share of pressure for customers, as you’re dealing directly with the people who stand to make money out of your decision to buy.

Then along came the internet. People began to advertise and sell cars online. Dealers had to start being a little more competitive with their pricing, as it was easier for people to get more than one quote. Buyers suddenly became less prepared to put up with being worn down by inescapable sales patter.

Now, the internet allows car buyers to see all of the options available to them just by clicking buttons or tapping a screen. There are also reviews to read and watch online for almost every model of car – a far cry from our former reliance on specialist motoring magazines and recommendations from family and friends.

For people who find negotiating prices face-to-face awkward, the developments in car buying have been most welcome. You can negotiate prices online and consider your options privately and at your own pace, with offers made through emails and messages, especially through auction sites like eBay.

Changing the customer experience

BMW has sought to change with the times in terms of the car buying experience. The company now employs ‘car geniuses,’ who know all there is to know about its collection of vehicles. These staff members aren’t motivated by sales – their role is simply to give potential customers all of the information they need to make a decision.

This removes the pressure of customers having to talk about their finances or possible contract terms. Instead, they can focus on finding the model that is perfect for them and fall for it at their own pace.

Meanwhile, Volvo is taking an alternative – and far more futuristic – approach to progressing the car buying experience. The firm is working with Microsoft on ‘HoloLens.’ This will allow people to interact with Volvo’s cars and brand using holograms, while still being connected with the world around them.

Volvo is the only automotive company currently working with Microsoft on this project. It hopes that it will help people to see specific features, and choose cars’ finer details, as they create them to their own specifications in holographic form.

Car companies are constantly looking at ways in which they can make the car buying process easier for their customers. Many are seeking to embrace new technology in order to do this, thus opening up many possibilities for the future of car buying. PetrolPrices believes that car vending machines and holograms are just the tip of the iceberg – watch this space for further updates!

Would you buy a car from a vending machine? Or do you prefer face-to-face contact when it comes to purchasing a vehicle? Leave a comment to let us know.

Amazon to sell cars online in the UK

Amazon to sell cars online in the UK

Rumour has it that e-commerce giant Amazon is going to start selling cars, with a trial set to take place in the UK before it is rolled out to other countries.

Amazon has previously tested selling the Fiat 500 in Italy, and now it has manufacturers from Germany who are on board with the idea too, so is looking to branch out with this idea.

Details of the plan have not been made official yet; they were leaked in Automobilwoche, a German trade magazine. The article speculated that the business will be run out of Luxembourg, and that Amazon has already started to recruit salesmen for the venture. 

Amazon look to start trialling the plan in the UK

Impact on UK car industry

Selling items from books to kitchenware, Amazon has a reputation for changing whichever market it takes on. Thus it is unsurprising that car dealerships may be a little concerned about this potential addition to their industry.

When the news was announced, shares in AutoTrader dropped by 6%, while shares in Lookers (a large car dealership chain in the UK and Ireland) dropped by 4%, reflecting the uncertainty over what the arrival of this new competitor could mean for the industry overall.

Amazon tends to focus its offering on price, so is unlikely to impact car sellers that focus on premium service and high quality cars. However, it will force those focused on price and value to rethink how to compete against this master of digital marketing and customer conversion.

The online only car selling conundrum

There are plenty of aspects of buying a car that people will not be able to access if they buy one online via Amazon. This may eradicate some of the concern that more traditional car dealers are feeling.

For example, although more people would be willing to buy a car online now than they would have been in 2015, many still like the idea of being able to test drive a car before purchasing, having the option to part exchange, and the ability to select finance options, which Amazon may not be able to provide directly.

Most car buyers like to research possibilities online before going out to view cars, but would feel more comfortable purchasing one via face-to-face interaction because it is a big-ticket purchase. Amazon may follow the example of Tesla and rent out shop space in large shopping centres to generate that interaction and show the cars on sale in a physical environment or allow test drives.

In addition to this, car manufacturers can only distribute cars through dealers, and if Amazon tries to bypass the dealers, it could put their new venture at risk of failure. This is exactly what happened when Virgin and Tesco tried to do the same thing in the past.

Will the Amazon entry be good for consumers?

It is likely that Amazon will be able to undercut prices offered by dealers due to the way that it runs its business, (i.e. low overheads). This could mean that consumers have to spend less on a new car, which could appeal to many users.

Another benefit of Amazon selling cars is that dealerships will be forced to provide a more personalised service to their customers, to show what they can offer that Amazon can’t. This is sure to make potential car buyers happy when they visit the showrooms.

Conversely, some car dealerships may decide to start charging for things that they were previously giving away for free, in order to compete on price for the actual car sold (in much the same way as budget airlines now do).

There are both pros and cons to buying a car through Amazon, if indeed this is a service that it decides to provide. Having this new option available is sure to be something that many motorists will welcome and the car industry dreads.

 

What do you think about Amazon entering the UK car market? Do you think it will deliver better value or will it drive the industry to deliver less value and raise prices? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo credit: “Box” by Mike Seyfang is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Amazon to sell cars online in the UK

The street lamp: how it’s charging an electric vehicle revolution

The electric vehicle (EV) is finding real traction both in the UK and across the globe. However, a serious issue remains – the limited number of EV charging points. Is it possible that the humble street lamp could hold the answer?

The UK’s charging infrastructure is often citied as one of the biggest bottlenecks to mass electric vehicle adoption – it simply isn’t expansive or convenient enough for most EV drivers. Factor in differing socket types, reliability and availability and you have an issue that is in urgent need of addressing.

Figures show that electric cars past the two-million mark globally, with sales increasing by a massive 60% in 2016 alone thanks to new models and lower prices in showrooms. In the UK, plug-in car sales recently hit 100,000.

UK EVs are supported by a network of public charge points in more than 4,000 locations, according to vehicle-charging website zap-map.com. However, that’s not enough to keep up with expected demand over the coming years. Enter German company Ubitricity, which has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem – installing a socket that EV drivers can plug a bespoke charging cable into on the 7.5 million street lamps across the UK .

Put a socket on it

The process is simple enough – the local council pays the company to swap out a street lamp’s existing panel and retrofit it with a socket and cover. The process takes a mere 30 minutes before the street lamp is ready to be used. EV drivers then purchase the smart charging cable that connects their vehicle to the lamp post. The cable features technology that monitors and uploads all pertinent metering and billing information.

The cable costs £50 and can also be used on standard sockets, bypassing Ubitricity altogether if necessary. Subscribers should expect to pay roughly 15 pence per kilowatt hour and a 9 pence plug-in charge, plus a monthly fee for the service. The only concerns are the potential security issues, where someone could steal the cable when in use or simply remove it from the EV being charged and plug it into their own.

Despite such concerns, the technology has genuine appeal to councils. Installing a traditional public charging point is believed to cost around £6,000, while the lamp-based tech costs a mere £1,000. Better still, the council can get help covering installation costs by taking advantage of the £2.5 million on offer through the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles’ On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme.

Dealing with pollution head-on

Perhaps most importantly, the street lamp technology is seen as a valid way to drive down pollution in cities. Peter Buckwell, Richmond Council Cabinet member for highways, commented in an interview with the International Business Times,

“Poor air quality is one of the biggest issues facing London. We need to do everything we can to cut vehicle emissions… I hope that as we continue to roll out more charging points, even more residents will start buying electric cars. They aren’t just good for the environment, they are also good for the pocket.”

Richmond isn’t alone; several London boroughs are already adopting the unique charging system. For instance, Hounslow Council has already installed 26 charge points in a trial and expects to have 75 charge points rolled out by the middle of 2019. Only time will tell how far the scheme eventually spreads across the UK, but with such a simple and cost effective solution, don’t be surprised to see the technology appear in a street lamp near you before too long.

Would you take the plunge and plug your EV into a street lamp? Or do you have concerns about the technology? Let us know your thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Photo on Pixabay

Amazon to sell cars online in the UK

“Zombie drivers” most reliant on sat navs in London, says survey

A recent survey by black cab taxi app mytaxi has found that London drivers are more reliant on sat navs than drivers anywhere else in the UK. The survey estimates that London drivers waste on average 62 hours a year blindly following sat nav instructions into traffic jams and black-spots, with these “zombie drivers” further exacerbating traffic congestion on the roads.

The mytaxi survey found that a massive 88% of drivers in London use sat navs all the time, versus 76% for the national average. Further to this, one in five Londoners say they cannot find their way home in London without a sat nav. Meanwhile, a whopping 65% confess they would not be able to cope without a sat nav in an unfamiliar location outside of London.

“Zombie Drivers” most reliant on sat navs in London says survey

Ignoring road conditions

Most worryingly of all, 62% say that they pay no regard at all to road signs, famous landmarks or even temporary lights and road signs, such as diversion signals if a road is closed, when following the sat nav in the car. This zombification has led to drivers blindly driving into dead ends, going the long way if re-routed by the sat nav or getting stuck in unnecessary traffic congestion because a sat nav fails to choose the quickest route, wasting up to 100 hours a year per driver.

The survey also found that 39% of all sat nav routes fail to reach the exact destination, while only 13% of the routes selected by sat navs were the quickest to the destination. In a sly dig at Uber drivers and other sat nav-reliant minicab services, mytaxi General Manager, UK, Andy Jones, comments:

“Sat nav technology is undoubtedly a huge help to many people but it is certainly not flawless and the results can be both frustrating and comical, as evidenced by the huge number of misadventures we have recorded.”

“We are proud to say that all mytaxi drivers have spent three years studying for The Knowledge memorising over 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. There really is no substitute to real local knowledge when it comes to navigating through traffic and finding the quickest routes to a destination.”

How to tackle being a “zombie driver”

The obvious way to tackle being a zombie driver is to switch the sat nav off and try to navigate using road signs and maps, especially on common routes that you undertake. There is no substitute for knowing the back routes personally, as this can enable you get around the jams at peak times.

Some drivers have sat nav on by default because they think it will find a faster route if there is traffic congestion on the current route. However, although sat navs such as Google Maps often proclaim there is a “faster route available,” this is not always correct. That’s because these sat navs don’t analyse the current congestion level on the alternative route at the same time – at best they predict it based on historic traffic levels at that day and time, so it’s not a true, real time comparison between routes.

Another way to tackle your zombie driver status is to use an app like Waze. Waze is a community of drivers who aim to help other drivers to avoid traffic jams in real time. Much of the data you see in Waze does appear in Google Maps, but you can’t replace the feeling of Waze and the sense of finding a new route for the community of other drivers out there.

Are you a “zombie driver” and do you agree that sat navs take you into traffic jams rather than help you avoid them? Do you think you are over reliant on your sat nav – would you be able to cope with road signs and maps? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credit – Pixabay 

Amazon to sell cars online in the UK

Super-fast electricity: Charging your plug-in is about to get faster

The Ifbattery is set to revolutionise charging times for Electric Vehicles, meaning that owning one could actually be practical for all the demographics, not just the handful that want to do the right thing.

Transportation for the masses is changing, Electric Vehicles (EV’s), Hybrids, BEV’s and PHEV’s are a serious part of many manufacturers plans for the future, but right now, they are flawed.
Battery prices, limited range and lengthy charge times are just three of the problems that manufacturers currently face, but technology developed by a team at Purdue University in the U.S. is about to change at least one of those; charge times for the battery could be reduced to the same length of time as it takes to fill up a regular tank.

Minutes not Hours

Plug-in vehicles currently account for around 0.10% of worldwide car sales, and whilst the likes of Tesla are pushing the technological boundaries, reducing costs and developing products that you’d actually want to own because it’s a great product, that figure is surely set to rise.

The first generation of plugins would see you being able to run your daily commute and back before needing to find a power-source to plug-in to, and once you’d found that source, you’d be there a while – an hour’s charge for ten miles wasn’t unheard of.

As with all technology, once it’s adopted, people start pushing development and improving the whole experience, in the case of electric vehicles, this has brought prices down, extended the driving range and to some extent, reduced charging times – the Tesla Supercharger station can give a 100% charge in just forty minutes.

IF-Battery

The fact remains that charging times for these vehicles means that a plan is still required if you’re looking to travel any distance – you can’t just hop out and fill up before continuing with your journey, you’ll need to think about where you’re stopping and for how long; a coffee? Lunch? Dinner … Overnight?

Welcome to the world of modern battery technology – the Ifbattery.

The Ifbattery is what’s known as a ‘flow’ battery, as with many great or revolutionary inventions, the idea behind it sounds quite simple; the battery uses fluid electrolytes to re-energise the spent battery fluid – you drain the spent fluid and replace with new.

It’s hoped that the existing petrol station infrastructure (tanks, pipes, pumps etc) could be used to store, remove and fill the batteries, meaning that a changeover to this new tech could be relatively simple and low-cost.

Click below to watch more on the technology.

As a Consumer

At the moment, this new technology isn’t going to improve matters directly, although with research teams working hard to improve the situation, you know that these developments are in the pipeline (excuse the pun!).

There will come a day when electric vehicles are able to compete on price, range and practicality with traditionally fossil-fuelled vehicles, but that day isn’t quite here yet. If you’re looking to switch fuels for your vehicle, you’re going to need to wait for another few years before this type of technology is widely available.

In the meantime, prices for electric vehicles (and the associated hybrids) are becoming more affordable, they are just beginning to compete with the regular cars, if you can live with the extended charge times, they could well be worth looking at as an alternative mode of transport.

 

Is electric power something you’d consider instead of fossil fuels? What would make your decision easier? Let us know in the comments section below.

Image Credit – Pixabay 

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