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Will we ever have self driving limos?

Posted on 12th Sep, 2019 by Jackie Jolliffe

limo tyres on road

Self-driving cars have been making headlines increasingly frequently in recent years, and sometimes it seems like the entire automotive industry is talking about nothing else. There’s certainly no denying that it’s a keen focus for many manufacturers looking to evolve their offerings. But while we’ve already got consumer cars on the horizon, what’s the case for self driving limos? How will it affect limo hire? Well, some self driving limos are already here, so we look at what this might mean!

The future of limousines

Although self-driving limos aren’t quite as much of a focus for manufacturers as common consumer cars, some of the world’s biggest names in the automotive industry have already made this vision a reality. Foremost amongst them is Renault, which recently debuted the EZ-Ultimo, an electric limousine that’s been designed for short journeys, with a range of just over 300 miles. Renault’s plan – initially – is that this will be used by affluent individuals, CEOs, and high-end brands. It may ultimately become an app-controlled ride-hailing vehicle, in the same vein as Uber or Lyft.

All self-driving cars are classified by their “level of autonomy” – basically, the ability of a vehicle to directly control itself, as opposed to being controlled by the driver. Right now, most consumer cars are somewhere between Level 0 and Level 1, depending on the amount of in-car tech they have. (Autonomous braking is one example of increasingly widespread technologies which can raise a car’s level of autonomy.) Renault’s self-driving limo is at Level 4, which is already pretty impressive. The EZ-Ultimo is also home to a first-class lounge, accommodating around three people.

It’s already debuted at motor shows, and not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz has already announced that they’re in the midst of plans to develop a line of luxury autonomous cars. So, is this the end for limo hire as we know it? Well, not quite!

black hummer limo

Problems with self-driving limos

Although the strides being made are certainly impressive so far, there’s already been some scepticism levelled at Renault’s new model. To begin with, one reviewer called it ‘massive’ and compared it to a yacht, which is not quite glowing praise when considered in context! The concept as described as “one of [Renault’s] least realistic, but certainly one of its most provocative”. Here at Limo-Scene, we tend to agree – it’s a stunning idea, but one without much practical application as things stand.

Prohibitively expensive

It’s a given that the first prototypes of any new technology are always staggeringly expensive, and it’s no different with self-driving limos. It’s likely that the cost will drop over time as infrastructure and other vital aspects of the tech gradually develop, but they’ll have to ultimately get a lot more affordable if they’re ever going to be anything more than a novelty for the super-rich.

Limited capacity

The initial prototypes from Renault and Mercedes Benz are being marketed as high-class, exclusive travel (partially due to the expense, as we’ve outlined above). And while they excel in that regard, it’s not much help to the huge range of customers like those we often serve at Limo-Scene, including families, individuals, and small businesses. For example, self-driving limos are automatically out of reach for parents looking to organise a special treat for children’s birthday parties – not only is the cost a barrier, but many self-driving limos at the moment physically don’t have enough room.

Navigation and manoeuvring

Modern Sat-Navs and apps like Google Maps are getting pretty good at reactively changing routes, and even proactively planning around traffic. However, their abilities are still limited, and an AI driver won’t be able to improvise a route or use personal judgement like a human driver can. There’s also the challenge of physically manoeuvring the vehicle – right now, self-driving cars are still developing for normal-length cars. When significantly longer vehicles like limos are involved though, it becomes even harder, and it’s all too easy to imagine an AI clipping a kerb due to a misjudged turn, or dismissing a manoeuvre that a human driver might ultimately be able to perform, possibly leading to a delay.

Manufacturers are already perfecting the technology that allows self driving cars to ‘talk’ to each other, communicating and avoiding collisions, but when they first set out on the roads, self driving limos will be in a minority. How will they account for human drivers, and how will human drivers react to them?

Safety

Another concern for parents is the idea of safety. As a completely hypothetical (but plausible) scenario, if a child is taken ill on the limo ride and needs to be taken to hospital, it will be much harder to communicate that to an AI than a human driver. At the very least, initially it may well involve getting in touch with the dispatcher, who will then re-route the vehicle. All that is extra time that may be critical in an emergency. That’s just one example of a possible emergency scenario – there are lots more which current AIs might still be poorly equipped to handle!

Legal issues

There are a number of legal issues relating to self-driving cars – so many, in fact, that they could probably fill several articles! To sum up one of the most pressing, though – what happens if a self-driving limo is involved in a collision? Who is at fault? AIs can do many things, but they’re not great at accepting legal responsibility, so does it fall to the manufacturer of the car? The programmer of the software? Or the passengers in the vehicle? (That doesn’t seem fair!) Right now, it doesn’t look like any of those legal issues are going away, and there are no easy answers.

Infrastructure

We touched on this above, but looking to the future, it looks like most self-driving vehicles will need to be electric. For that, we need the infrastructure, with charging points up and down the country. This is still being developed at the moment, and without it self-driving limos will have a very limited range – which might end up being a problem for some customers and operators.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that many of these issues – even all of them – might be overcome in future. But there’s one in particular that we can’t see ever getting better…

Self driving limos are just so… impersonal

Don’t you think? We’ve talked plenty on the blog previously about what trained, passionate limo drivers bring to the table. Above all, limos are a luxury experience, and that true white-glove service often requires a human touch. Limo drivers are there to provide a top-tier service, to hold the door and make you or your loved ones feel like a superstar. Using a self-driving limo takes an awful lot of the heart and soul out of the experience, and while lots of people may be fine with that, we can’t help but think it makes for a slightly bleaker future!

But speaking of which, most of this technology is years away from widespread use right now – and you can count on us here at Limo-Scene to provide a quality experience for you in the meantime! Feel free to browse your favourite vehicles from our range – our Pink Hummer Limo is always popular, as is our sleek Black Chrysler! You can book them right here on our website, or give us a call on our booking hotline: 07812 102 051!