SA not ready for autonomous vehicles

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It will take over 10 years before autonomous vehicles become a reality in SA, due to key challenges that have to be addressed first.

This was the word from Andrew Kirby, president and CEO of Toyota SA, speaking at the Smarter Mobility Africa 2019 Summit held in Pretoria last week.

Discussing the forthcoming revolutionary trends expected to shape the automobile industry, Kirby explained that connected, electrified, autonomous and shared mobility services will define the future for the next mobility revolution, influenced by an increase in urbanisation across the globe.

He highlighted the importance of industry players adequately preparing for this shift.

As the race to commercially introduce autonomous vehicles heats up, Kirby believes SA is far from ready and will have to wait for more than a decade before autonomous vehicles become a reality on its roads.

“I'm a little sceptical about the roll out of fully autonomous vehicles in SA, due to the challenges we face with road quality and infrastructure, technological advancements, smart cities and urban planning, as well as legislation. We need real-time data transfer between vehicles and also between the vehicles and the infrastructure, in order to create a conducive environment for autonomous vehicles.”

In SA, 70% of the roads are unpaved, and even those that are paved mostly don't meet the standard infrastructural requirement for autonomous vehicles. In order for SA to move up the hierarchy, major improvement must take place in various areas, he advised.

“We will have to wait for over a decade before we see autonomous vehicles in SA and Africa as a whole. What we should be focusing on at the moment is on fully introducing the first three steps of smart mobility: automated driving technology, connected technology and the shared service model.”

Vehicle manufacturers and governments across the globe are spending billions of dollars on preparing for the autonomous vehicle market.

Local caution

In April, former transport minister Blade Nzimande explained in a parliamentary question and answer discussion, that while there are plans for driverless vehicles in SA, introduction will not take place in the immediate future, due to policy and legislative amendments that would need to take place.

While there have been a lot of technological advancements in the automotive sector in Africa in the last few years, there are still a lot of challenges, including traffic congestion, high carbon emissions, access to mobility services by people with disabilities and the high costs of mobility, which are hindering access to mobility services for many people across Africa.

“The current mobility revolution aims to address these challenges by providing efficient and sustainable mobility for everyone, categorised into different trends, which represent a one-in-a-hundred year’s paradigm shift.”

Kirby said connected mobility is largely influenced by the mobile phone, with vehicles of today having an array of integrated services accessed on mobile phones via the car interface which is the gateway to connectivity.

“The fully connected vehicle is a game-changer as it is equipped with communication technology that allows for the direct flow of data throughout the vehicle without a mobile device. Shared mobility has the potential to help cities reduce both carbon emissions and traffic congestion, and it is expected to grow steadily by 2030 and accelerate by 2040. Shared mobility services at the moment don't have a clear business case, with every region having a different approach to it,” he explained.

Today, there are more than 1.3 million people in SA working across the automotive industry, which has a huge impact on all industries, he continued. Therefore, the evolution towards a more efficient and cleaner mobility model directly impacts the transport sector and city infrastructure, asserted Kirby.

In terms of electrification, core technologies such as batteries, vehicle control units and motoring technologies will form a large part of the hybrid electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid EVs, and full EVs sector.

“When you add a few stacks to these solutions, you get a variety of solutions such as autonomous driving solutions and connected driving solutions for mobility-as-a-service and we need to understand how each of these technologies has its own merits and their role in providing a greater global emission reduction potential.”

Carbon cuts

The Department of Transport’s Green Transport Strategy 2050 introduced last year is aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the local transport sector by 5% by 2050. Toyota aims to reduce these by 90% by 2050, and plans to eventually achieve a net positive effect in future, explained Kirby.

Toyota has invested over $1 billion in research and development through the Toyota Research Institute, established to focus on the development of robotics, automated driving technology and authentication systems in vehicles.

“Three systems have been developed to provide vehicles with certain driver assistance and conditional automation features. The first one is Highway Teammate, which takes control of the vehicle when driving on highways, and informing the driver about traffic jams and other safety information.

“The second one is the Guardian Mode, which monitors the driver’s tasks and can help to prevent an accident. The chauffeur autonomous driving mode is responsible for all driving tasks and all occupants are strictly passengers.”

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