Don’t expect autonomous cars in South Africa anytime soon

Toyota South Africa CEO Andrew Kirby has said fully-fledged autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be in the country in the near future, due to poor infrastructure.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Kirby said poor road conditions, and a lack of clear road markings and road signs were barriers to autonomous vehicles taking to the roads.

“The experience of full autonomy is not going to be practical in South Africa. Manufacturers all have the technology, the issue is that the infrastructure needs to be in place to utilise it,” he said.

“That type of infrastructure is not going to be available in South Africa for many years to come.”

Kirby said many cars in SA can keep themselves in a lane, and accelerate or break automatically, but these were only “autonomous level one and two” vehicles.

Fully-autonomous cars are “level five”, and are controlled by an automated driving system.

Kirby said South Africa will still benefit from self-driving car technology, however, as great advancements in safety standards will be developed.

“There is a lot of unpredictable behaviour on South African roads and we need to design ourselves around that,” he said.

Road signs

It’s not only in countries with poor infrastructure that self-driving cars may battle – vandalism of road signs in developed countries could also pose a challenge.

University of Washington researchers recently discovered that a defaced street sign can confuse a self-driving car.

Their research showed that an autonomous vehicle’s image recognition system can be thrown off by placing stickers on street signs.

Another potential issue for South Africa is how the taxi industry will react to self-driving cars, particularly if they are used by services like Uber.

Local Uber drivers have come under increased attacks from taxi drivers in recent weeks, with taxi operators calling for the service to be shut down.

Now read: Car rental companies face death in the age of Uber

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Don’t expect autonomous cars in South Africa anytime soon