Aston Martin CEO Dr. Andy Palmer was on stage at the Canadian International Auto Show on Thursday in Toronto, kicking off the event with the North American unveil of the AM-RB 001, Aston Martin’s new hypercar. The fancy car is pretty cool, if that’s your bag (it presumably goes fast and is good-looking, as you can see below), but Palmer’s comments on autonomous driving led his remarks, and they’re especially interesting coming from the Chief Executive of a company that makes cars people thrill to drive.
Palmer said that it’s “no longer a question of if, but when” with regards to an autonomous driving future – in other words, the CEO of a company that makes cars adored by the same people who decry the idea of having control over their precious metal conveyance box taken away from them is acknowledging that it’s now basically curtains for primarily manually driven vehicles. Palmer also offered an anecdote from his personal life, noting that his children don’t place personal value or identity in getting access to cars – they derive these things from other sources, including apps, mobile devices and social networks.
That, combined with the rapid advances in technology and investment in vehicle automation, are contributing to a trajectory that puts us on a path to autonomous cars, according to Palmer. But that doesn’t mean Aston Martin is getting out of the luxury sports car market. In fact, Palmer added that “full autonomy is unlikely to be a near-term goal for a luxury sports car manufacturer,” and reiterated that truly autonomous tech is still a ways off.
Still, Palmer said that advancements in self-driving tech will help in the near-term with features including advanced driver assist and safety offerings. And while he brought up his company’s plans to develop an autonomous Lagonda eventually, he said that before things proceed to that stage he believes the industry needs to focus on basics first – basics including defines against cyber attacks, where Palmer said the “real battleground exists today.”
Palmer cautioned all car companies to ensure that “before we beta test our customers, let us understand the technologies,” including issues like connectivity, and what happens in situations where situational observation from sensors might not be sufficient, but where getting a 4G connection also isn’t possible. He made it clear that Aston Martin will ensure these basic questions are answered long before developing or fielding any kind of autonomous vehicle.
Still, it’s very interesting to hear a luxury sports automobile company CEO speak at such length about autonomous driving tech, particularly when he’s just unveiled, and is standing next to, one of the most elaborate and expensive odes to human-powered driving ever created. Aston Martin has previously expressed interest in autonomy as a way to provide luxury and comfort in settings where the thrill of driving isn’t available anyway – like when you’re stuck in traffic – but its clear the company’s thinking around this area continues to mature.