01/06/2015 12:32 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2015

Is Self-Driving the Future?

The Germans are known for being one of the leading nations when it comes to manufacturing cars, but they're about to take it to the next level, with Audi's CEO, Rupert Stadler, claiming that the first generation of self-driving cars could hit our roads within the next two years, with a few prototypes even making an appearance sooner still!

This revelation came from a recent speech at the Süddeutsche Zeitung's Economic Summit in Berlin, but Audi isn't the first to suggest that self-driving cars could soon become a permanent fixture on our roads, with Google releasing its driverless prototype and clocking up hundreds of thousands of miles on US public roads.

However, this didn't come without scepticism, with many criticising the car for its inability to park and cope with extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain and snow. The notion of driverless vehicles is an easy one to ridicule, but they might not be as futuristic and sci-fi as people think. We take a closer look to discover if self-driving cars really are the future for the world's highways.

So How 'Driverless' Are They?

Even for the most enthusiastic driver, the idea of a driverless car seems like the dream! It's been a commonly talked about area in the motoring world for years, but now it's finally happening! But a car that does all the work while you kick back and relax? It all seems a little far-fetched and too good to be true, doesn't it?

But companies like Volvo are proving all the naysayers wrong. It might be a legal requirement for company personnel to man the wheel for the time being, but their V40 cars aren't just being trialled on the test track at their Gothenburg headquarters - they're heading out on to the dual carriageways of Gothenburg, and there is almost no human involvement required to take it out for a spin. The driver simply needs to set the car into cruise mode and press a switch. Feet off the pedals and hands off the steering wheel, the driver can then spend the journey relaxing and chatting while the car does all the work!

How Safe Are They?

For many sceptics, one of the reasons for doubt is that these cars surely can't be safe? But cars like this could be on the road as early as 2017, and in Volvo's case, all will have relevant electronics integrated into the regular system. The concept actually isn't that surprising, as the concept of driver-assistance systems have developed at a phenomenal rate over the last few years.

Some of the more expensive cars on the market already come equipped with an adaptive cruise control feature, which allows the car to stay at a steady cruise and adjust the speed to stay a safe distance away from other cars on the road. Many of those who have driven this type of car have offered positive feedback, despite initial skepticism.

Of course, self-driving cars also come equipped with technologies including lane monitoring and guiding, which can warn when the car is at risk of straying across lane edge markings and evening pull the vehicle back on course as well as surround-view cameras, lasers and radars to allow the car to carry out its purpose safely.