The Future of Self-Driving Cars

A WAYMO Self-Driving Car Photo: Wikipedia

In the 60s and 70s, one of the first autonomous vehicles was created, called the Stanford cart. However, for it to make a 1-meter location change, it could take up to a quarter of an hour. Autonomous vehicles have greatly advanced since then, but how close are we now?

Unfortunately, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimates that it won’t be until 2045 for half of new cars to be self-driving. The delay is caused in part by the needed time to develop the artificial intelligence to be capable of safely driving. Although most experts consulted by Consumer Reports agree that the technology is 85 to 90 percent there, “It takes a lot, lot longer to get to 96 or 97. You have a curve, and those last few percentage points are really difficult,” Raj Nair, the former executive vice president at Ford Motor Co., said in regards to the development of self-driving cars.

Part of the challenge for the AI is the necessity of preparing it to handle unique situations, as developers cannot predict every possible situation which could arise for a self-driving car.

However, companies are drawing closer to the goal of self-driving cars; “There’s not a lot of fundamental invention that’s got to go on. It’s more development and refinement and validation,” Mike Ableson, previously at General Motors as the vice president of global strategy, said about achieving autonomous cars.

This AI, while quickly improving using machine learning, is not yet able to drive under all conditions without any human intervention, which SAE International’s levels of driving automation lists as criteria for level 5 fully autonomous vehicles.

There is progress being made; Waymo, a company focused on creating self-driving cars, launched in 2018 Waymo One, which is described by Waymo as a “self-driving ride hailing service”; it is currently only available near Phoenix.

In addition, currently multiple cars on the market have some level of self-driving features, though the driver must be paying attention and ready to take over driving. Tesla currently produces cars which can match speed of the car to nearby traffic, help the car change lanes, perpendicular and parallel park, and the driver can summon a car in a parking lot.

Autonomous driving has come a long way from the Stanford cart; however, while features are being introduced to cars which reduce the amount of work drivers must do, widespread completely self-driving cars are still many years away.