We recently published this popular infographic about the states where driverless cars are legal. While researching, we discovered there are a lot of different predictions around when the average person will actually be able to buy a self-driving car. Some automakers are already selling cars with self-driving technology. Others are predicting they will have a full lineup of self-driving cars in just over a decade. We took predictions from experts and automakers and put it all together in one beautiful infographic.
So how realistic are these predictions? The march towards autonomous cars is inevitable, but the obstacles facing the automotive industry before driverless cars reach consumers are immense. These obstacles include technology, social attitudes, legislation and infrastructure.
Automakers are going to have to develop the technology to make autonomous cars dependable. Google’s cars have logged over 700,000 miles autonomously without a single crash. This sounds promising, yet still doesn’t convince many people they are able to handle every real-life driving scenario. Safety is priority number one, but perhaps the bigger challenge will be making the technology affordable.
The Velodyne LiDAR system used by Google for their driverless cars costs $75,000 and requires a trunk full of equipment to operate. That’s roughly the price of a brand new BMW M4 before we even start to discuss the cost of the car itself. In a recent conversation, Wolfgang Juchmann, Director of Sales and Marketing at Velodyne, told Mojo Motors that the company is focusing on making smaller and more economically viable LiDAR systems for the mass market.
New technology is almost always expensive in the beginning and then drops the following years. The LiDAR units would certainly be more affordable if Google was mass-producing say, thousands of them for a fleet of driverless NYC taxis. In the meantime, you’ll be stuck in one these New York City taxis.
In a MojoMotors.com poll, 4 out of 5 people said they would not buy an autonomous car if it were on the market today. Automotive companies need to build confidence in their technology and show consumers the benefits of autonomous cars, especially if the cars come with a higher price tag. Hybrid vehicles have been around for over a decade and still only represented 3.2% of new car sales in 2013, mostly due to the simple fact that they cost more than regular cars. As much as industry leaders would like to expedite this process, building trust in new technology requires time.
Car enthusiasts are particularly adverse to the autonomous car concept. A fully autonomous car takes all the fun out of driving and leaves no reason to modify or customize the engine and performance of a vehicle. No matter how much horsepower your autonomous car has, it will never break the speed limit. Moreover, accepting that their car can drive better than them is just something many gear-heads aren’t ready to do.
During a panel on the connected car at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, Mike Moen, the founder of DriveScribe said a blocker or inhibitor of driverless might not be consumers at all. He points to millenials as the example. They’re not buying cars because they’re relying on other means and driverless cars will likely become one of those means.
When social attitudes change and people decide they actually want autonomous cars, legislators will be forced to acknowledge this. Google has succeeded in creating legislation that caters to autonomous cars in Nevada, California, Florida, and Michigan by sending out lobbyists and impressing legislators with test rides. This is the same approach Tesla has taken in their own efforts to legalize sales of their Model S (see: where Tesla can sell cars).
It will take take more convincing in less progressive states. Automotive laws have always been written assuming a driver is in control of the vehicle. This leaves autonomous cars in a legal gray area. The NHTSA took a major step towards advancing autonomous cars by defining 5 levels of autonomy in motor vehicles. Regulations on a federal level will make it easier for states to define their individual legislation.
The last and most difficult obstacle will be adapting the infrastructure of roads and highways to accommodate autonomous cars. In a world of highly advanced automated cars, there may not be a need for the visual guidance that humans require. Sophisticated vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication would make traffic signals and road signs a charming memory.
Highways of the future will become massive data collectors, gathering real-time data on traffic patterns and congestion, for example. Cars will take this data and use it when navigating to their destination in the fastest and safest way possible. States will have to agree on a universal format for this process and how this data is collected and shared.
Other infrastructural complications that manufacturers will have to account for include all the random things we do with our vehicles. For example, what happens when you purchase a 50″ UHD TV from Best Buy and want pull your autonomous car up to the curb? What if a secluded camp site isn’t near any actual roads? What about when you want to pull a boat it in and out of the water? There are so many implications of autonomous cars we can’t even begin to recognize, but just as the nation’s landscape transformed in the years after the car was first invented, it will be modified once again.
Most people probably equate the driverless car movement to Google and their autonomous car prototype. Truth is, Google is just a contestant in the race to bring an autonomous car to market. Every major automotive company has their own driverless car program.
- Tesla: For those who can’t wait to take their hands off the wheel, Elon Musk claims Tesla will offer a car that can drive automated 90% of the time by 2016.
- Nissan: Not only will they a fully autonomous car available for purchase by 2020, but Nissan will offer an entire line of affordable cars that can operate without any input from the driver whatsoever.
- Toyota: Their vision of driverless cars is a little different. Toyota plans to create an Advanced Driver Support system, with features like Cooperative-Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Trace Control, the driver is always in control.
- Mercedes-Benz: The S-500 with Intelligent Drive has already driven itself through Germany. Some of the driver assistance features shown in their demonstration are already available on top Mercedes-Benz models and will be available on the E-Class soon.
- Volvo: The Swedish automaker famous for safety wants to eliminate car-related deaths by 2020 through autonomous technology. This will mean no more crash-test gifs! Volvo is also involved in the SATRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project that employs a professional driver to lead a pack of autonomous cars that are designed to follow closely to one another, thereby reducing drag and forming a “road train.” Volvo anticipates a driver can join a road train and then relax as their car takes control and follows the vehicle in front of them.
- Gray Scott: The technology futurist estimates California will be the first to adopt driverless cars. Expect to see them on roads in Golden State by 2017.
- Lux Research: Autonomous cars will create an $87 Billion dollar opportunity by the year 2030.
- Fehrs and Peers: 20-25% of traffic volume will be autonomous from 2030 to 2035, 50% from 2040 to 2050, 75% through 2060, and up to 95% by 2070.
It’s going to be a while before you look over on the highway and see someone in a car with no steering wheel, but that’s ultimately the direction we’re heading. With 90% of accidents being cause by human error, people have proven themselves incapable of operating vehicles safely. We are at the dawn of the biggest advancement in transportation since the advent of the internal combustion engine itself. Whether you are with it or against it, autonomous cars are the future. In the mean time, you can still find a great used car you can drive yourself.
Written by Tristan Cathers
Infographic by Gabriel Gross