Like it or not, fully autonomous cars are very much on the agenda for many car manufacturers. You might be surprised to hear, however, that you’re already being mentally prepared for the driverless revolution, set to arrive in the coming years.
At this week’s Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona, Ford vice president of research and advanced engineering, Ken Washington, told Motoring Research: “We aim to be testing Grade Four autonomous cars on roads within the next four years. Technically, the cars are nearly there – it’s the legislation that needs to catch up.”
However, it’s not just a battle with the legislators that car manufacturers face. There will also be a battle with customers. The idea of being driven around in a car controlled by a computer is downright scary to some. So, how does Ford aim to tackle this?
“We’re introducing autonomous cars gradually,” said Ford’s consumer experience expert, Jörg Ullrich. “Think of it like Spotify. Just a few years ago, my wife was an avid buyer of CDs. She hated the idea of paying for downloads. But then came iTunes, which changed that.
“It was a gradual thing. If Spotify had launched straight away, no one would have used it. But first we were introduced to paying for music downloads, and then this advanced to streaming.
“We aim to do the same with cars. First there were cars that steer themselves into parking spaces while the driver operated the pedals. This seemed a weird concept at first, but now we’re getting used to it.
“Next, there’ll be cars that park themselves while the driver stands at the side of the road watching and controlling it with their phone.”
Over time, Ford predicts drivers – and those in charge of legislation – will get used to the idea of entirely autonomous cars.
Ford isn’t just mentally preparing you for driverless cars. Through its new FordPass app, users (note: not necessarily ‘drivers’) can access FordGuide ‘mobility assistants’ as well as bespoke offers with specially-selected partners from food outlets to parking companies.
For example, in the early stages of FordPass (launching in April 2016), drivers will be able to find parking spaces through the app and then pay for parking. As the system advances over the coming years, this will change so that the car detects where it’s parked and for how long – paying automatically by using your card details. Eventually, as autonomous cars arrive, your car will go and find a parking space itself, and pay for it.
At MWC 2016, Ford has announced it’s partnering with BP in Europe. Initially, this will encourage users to find their nearest BP filling station, compare the cost of fuel and pay using their phone. But this will go a step further when driverless cars are introduced.
“When cars can drive themselves, why would you want to do the horrible, dirty job of refuelling your vehicle?”, said Ullrich. “Instead, the car will be able to drive itself to its nearest fuel station, refuel itself and charge it to your credit card, which is saved on the app.”
Ford has already axed fuel filler caps across its range – a move that will make it easier to refuel automatically without the help of humans in the future.
To find out more about the latest car technology at Mobile World Congress, check out our gallery on MSN Cars.