Could autonomous cars reduce fleet maintenance in the near future?

It seems there is little standing in the way of the potential autonomous cars revolution. Not only is the development of completely driverless car well underway in the engineering departments of a number of different automotive brands, a few teasers of the technology have already made it into modern vehicles. 

Driverless vehicles could be just around the corner for fleet managers.

This is good news for fleet managers on a number of different fronts. Now, autonomous driving technology no longer has to be discussed like a mysterious future concept, as a number of new vehicles with elements of these systems provide important context for drivers. 

Beyond this, the amount of progress many manufacturers are making with completely driverless vehicles mean these options could be just around the corner. 

While there are a number of benefits to these vehicles, such as the ability for drivers to relax on their daily commutes or even have cars make deliveries by themselves, there's one key motivation that underpins much of the effort spent creating this technology: the need for safer cars. 

What's the current state of autonomous technology?

Although a number of manufacturers have made much-publicised developments in creating self-driving cars, so far the technology and supporting regulations still need to evolve further to enable these cars to properly take over the market.

At this stage, however, there is a notable range of technologies that are able to intervene in the interest of driver safety. In some cases, these provide further functionality by representing a more advanced version of cruise control, meaning drivers can reduce strain by letting the car take over on long highway drives. 

Volvo's upcoming S90 executive vehicle is a key proponent of this trend, with its recent public debut at the Detroit Auto Show allowing future buyers to experience its latest features first hand. 

The S90 will launch with a massively updated version of Volvo's Pilot Assist system, bringing the vehicle perilously close to being a fully fledged self-driving car. In previous iterations, the system - which acts as a form of adaptive cruise control - needed to follow a lead vehicle to function effectively. Now, it can perform the same actions solo. 

The update removes a particularly restrictive set of features that greatly limited the technology, meaning drivers can now engage the system in almost any situation. Pilot Assist is described by Volvo as a semi-autonomous technology as it is capable of keeping cars within a lane at speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour.

The new Volvo can take over on the open road. The new Volvo can take over on the open road.

However, drivers don't just have to buy premium vehicles such as the Volvo S90 to access the first major wave of autonomous technologies. The next generation Toyota Prius is equipped with another development that is quickly becoming standard in modern cars. 

Collision prevention technologies such as autonomous emergency braking are changing what it means to have a safe vehicle. In the past, the industry focussed on features such as airbags which protected drivers and passengers in the event of the accident. Now, it's all about stopping accidents from happening in the first place, saving lives and reducing the pressure on fleet maintenance

Can cars drive themselves yet?

Importantly for the development of the technology and raising public awareness, there are a number of vehicles that are able to drive themselves completely. While certainly not the norm, these exceptions prove there is merit to autonomous cars and offer much-needed confidence in their future. 

A new update allows Tesla owners to pay homage to Knight Rider.

Alongside Google's autonomous vehicles which have been patrolling the streets of California for years now, a recent update to the Tesla Model S offered another contender. 

With an update to the car's existing autonomous system offered wirelessly just like a smartphone, the Tesla Model S quickly went from mildly futuristic vehicle to full-on Knight Rider homage. Amazingly, Tesla owners can now summon their Model S from its parking space to their location over a short distance, or let it return to one - even if there is a garage door in the way. 

What's next for autonomous vehicles?

With the technology rapidly approaching the level necessary to offer these vehicles to the public, it's only a matter of time before more manufacturers jump on board. 

A partnership between Renault and Nissan will be a vital step in the mainstream adoption of driverless cars, especially considering the recent announcement that the partnership will produce 10 cars with this functionality over the next four years. 

The initiative is important to the Renault-Nissan Alliance's green cars development as well. The partnership reported that its ultimate goals include a fleet responsible for zero emissions and zero fatalities. 

Driverless technology has a key part to play in this plan, as it is expected to significantly reduce the effects of human error and promote more fuel-efficient driving habits. 

The desire for autonomous vehicles is a trend that is having a massive effect on the automotive industry, with the technology affecting everyone from engineers to fleet managers and their drivers.