White line investment critical for driverless vehicle future

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Following the news of the government approving Ford’s BlueCruise hands-free driving system, John Warne, Business Development & Marketing Director at WJ Group has called for further support for highways authorities to enable such systems to operate across the British road network going into the future.

The new technology, which has been classed as a level two partial autonomous driving product, will now be available for use on certain parts of the UK motorway network. The system will be able to control a number of aspects of driving, such as steering and controlling speed. Although this will be easier to use, drivers will still have to remain present and aware of their surroundings throughout the journey.

Warne states that although the use of such systems is a step forward, any plans to take it nationwide will be difficult due to the condition of many roads and their road markings.

“In any system from level two and above, where the car takes control of tasks such as adjusting its position within the lane, the car’s onboard computer needs to be able to recognise road markings and changes in the road layout. Ford has said it has carried out testing showing it can handle worn-out markings and roadworks, but motorways still tend to have better maintained and more clearly delineated markings and roadworks.  The same cannot be said for many local urban and rural areas, which is why Ford’s BlueCruise is only an option for users on the motorway network.

“There are two primary issues that I see when it comes to road markings limiting the use of autonomous driving systems in the UK. Despite claims, the computer may struggle to differentiate between faded lines. And whereas on motorways the system will always be able to see a marking on either side of the vehicle, not all roads in urban and rural areas will have both a centre and an edge line. If the onboard system cannot use the markings on the road as a guide, then it will force the driver to retake control, making it almost obsolete.

“If the public wants to use products like BlueCruise to travel and more advanced forms of autonomous vehicles going forward across the road network, then the government needs to give highways authorities added funds to ensure their white lines are readable. This isn’t a singular issue for Ford’s latest technology but something that all systems need if they are to be used on British roads. Autonomous driving has been advancing globally with more countries approving its use every year. We run the risk of falling behind simply because highways authorities don’t have the correct funds available to deliver what the technology needs across their entire network. The future is here, road markings can ensure we are able to embrace it.”

For more information about WJ Group, please visit www.wj.uk

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