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Driverless Cars are Coming Our Way

Everyone knows that they are coming. Driverless cars are moving towards us slowly and surely, advancing the way glaciers did before global warming. Just as we were getting used to the idea of autonomous cars arriving at some point in the future, however, a small tech company based in Paris has put on sale the first driverless car. This news came at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January.

Everyone knows that they are coming. Driverless cars are moving towards us slowly and surely, advancing the way glaciers did before global warming. Just as we were getting used to the idea of autonomous cars arriving at some point in the future, however, a small tech company based in Paris has put on sale the first driverless car. This news came at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January. The French company, Induct Technology, has beaten the likes of Toyota, BMW, Audi and Mercedes to the punch in being the first to market.

The car is called the Navia and it is a singularly unimpressive looking beast. Something of a cross between a golf cart and a San Francisco cable car, it doesn't even have windows or seats. The vehicle is designed to operate as a shuttle in environments where walking would take too long and buses are too expensive or just inappropriate. The company has suggested hospitals, shopping malls or large industrial sites as being suitable. The Navia is an electric vehicle and is as yet unlicensed for use on public roads (it can't recognise traffic signals) but this is surely now only a matter of time.

The UK has an interest in the vehicle, with British company, Oxis Energy, making the batteries. Oxis has also been involved in testing the vehicle, using it to ferry visitors around its base in the Culham Science Centre, just outside Oxford. The Navia uses lasers to navigate and passengers can summon the vehicle like a cab by using an app on their smartphone. The Navia works out your location from the phone and the user then taps in his destination on a tablet pc fitted to the vehicle. Induct Technology's sales chief, Adrian Sussmann, likens the Navia to a lift that travels horizontally instead of vertically.

The electric vehicle is recharged from induction pads on the base of the car and built into the road surface. There is a choice of lithium polymer batteries, which can be fully charged in six hours or topped up via the induction pads during its travels. A second version uses an innovative super-capacitor instead of batteries. This system stops for 15 seconds on its route to pick up enough charge for a one mile journey. The Navia costs £170,000 but the company has already sold four units. A main attraction is the absence of maintenance or driver, which Induct says makes it 60% cheaper to operate than a normal shuttle type vehicle. The Navia may just be the very thin end of a very thick wedge.

 

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