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Self-driving cars — the way of the future

New report outlines autonomous car industry
Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary, Friday, March 27th, 2015

Are self-driving cars the future? Will connectivity and autonomous vehicles revolutionise the UK automotive industry?

After attending the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders conference on connectivity and autonomous vehicles this week, I believe the answer is yes to both questions.

A new report by KPMG for the SMMT says connectivity and autonomous vehicles (car programmed from a smart phone or tablet with an ability to be “driverless”) will give the UK economy a £51 billion boost while “cutting road congestion and accidents”.

It also claims that connectivity and the autonomous car industry will generate 320,000 new jobs in UK by 2030, while delivering benefits to society. We shall see – glowing predictions such as this sometimes go horribly wrong!

Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT, said: “The report clearly shows the UK automotive industry is leading the way in developing the cars of the future and that it will act as a catalyst for wider economic benefits. The UK must grasp the opportunities ahead and ensure it is continually at the forefront of pushing through these next breakthrough technologies.”

Among the companies making presentations on connectivity and autonomous vehicles at the conference were BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Bosch and Volvo.


They outlined developments to date, including vehicles already using smart phones or an embedded SIM card to programme navigation, in-car entertainment, and security, obtain road information. Self-parking and cars with 360-degree sensors and cameras that gather digital data from other cars around them and monitor road conditions and the environment around the car will become standard.

It all sounds simple – you get in the car – push the button and you arrive at your destination safe and sound.

The Volvo video of their driverless car cruising on a Swedish highway, switching lanes, slowing down, speeding up all with no driver – and a guy in a passenger seat casually using his mobile (not hands free!) and eating an apple which had me trying to press the non existent brake peddle!

A presentation by Bosch referred to “the time saved on the hour long commute to work” giving you more time to – you guessed it – do more work. Also the answer to the car “failing”? Well, it slows down, and then parks itself in a handy lay by and the driver takes over. Try doing that on the M1 or M25 on a Friday afternoon!

But connectivity is already well underway. Pre-programming, parking and traffic jam assistanance are available. Development work by vehicle manufacturers and tier one suppliers on “part driverless” systems and full automation is also underway.

There will be a number of major issues for Unite members and our highly successful automotive industry. The KPMG report forecasts that by 2030, every new car will have some form of connectivity and more than a quarter will be fully autonomous, so there will be big questions not least on future jobs, skills, re-training and how will the industry handle the change and ensure the UK auto sector stays successful.

To do that it has to be done in conjunction with the workforce. In the UK we have the skills and dedication to handle these developments. Workers in the industry and future apprentices will need to learn digital skills and there are also many questions of concern to the public – road safety, road and transport infrastructure, sustainability and data protection.

Connectivity and autonomous vehicles are not just buzzwords. Unite believes the UK needs to be at the forefront of research, development, design and manufacturing.

Our members have a big stake in the industry – they helped it survive in the economic crisis and help turn the industry around. Working with Unite and our members, the UK automotive sector will ensure we are not just in the race – but leading it.


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