While the core technology continues to advance, vehicles that can autonomously accelerate, brake, and steer under limited conditions are coming to market in the 2016 model year. Many OEMs are now projecting the next level of functionality is coming by 2020, with full autonomy possibly as soon as 2025.
Fundamentally, the main driver for vehicle technology is the same as it has been for the automotive industry since it was founded. Manufacturers develop new technology and styling to make their products more attractive to customers and to differentiate themselves from the competition. At various times in the past, the most important factors have been power, performance, and fuel economy. Safety, comfort, and convenience have always had roles to play, but were mostly secondary considerations.
The appeal of self-driving vehicles, however, goes beyond catching the interest of individual drivers and vehicle owners. Some are attracted by a desire for the latest gadget and some are enticed by the knowledge that they will be safer if their driving is monitored by a sophisticated array of sensors that do not get distracted. Longer term, the potential for doing other things while the vehicle is in charge of the mundane aspects of driving will appeal to some people. But as the penetration of automated driving technology—starting with the basic adaptive cruise control—grows, roads will become safer, traffic will move more smoothly, and congestion will be reduced. Once governments recognize the potential, incentives may be introduced that will encourage faster adoption.—“Autonomous Vehicles”
The obstacles to autonomous functionality are not all technological. While more testing is still needed to develop robustness, the biggest practical hurdles to clear before the rollout of self-driving vehicles to the public are related to liability, regulation, and legislation, the Navigant report points out. In the long term, though, autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to institute major change in personal mobility, particularly in large cities.