How far are we from autonomous driving? It depends on the scope

The problem for many automakers is the amount of resources needed to reach the level of sophistication of leading self-driving solutions.

The mid-2010s were filled with press releases from automakers and tech companies predicting the imminent future of self-driving, with Ford, Mercedes, and Hyundai all expecting 2020 to be the year autonomous vehicles catch up. the mainstream.

Three years after the promised date, and it looks like we’re no closer to self-driving cars pushing humans off the road. If anything, the general consensus has leapt to the other polar extreme, with tech columnists arguing that autonomous driving was a $100 billion mistake and may not be implemented for decades, if at all.

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The development of autonomous car systems has slowed somewhat over the past half-decade, with the coronavirus pandemic and automakers’ shift of focus to electric vehicles reducing the amount of resources and companies in the space. Uber and Lyft have both closed their self-driving divisions, while Ford and Volkswagen closed their self-driving hub Argo AI in 2022.

The problem, for many automakers, is the amount of resources needed to reach the level of sophistication of Waymo and Cruises’ self-driving solution. Many have closed their operations in favor of partnering with a software operator, such as Aurora, Cruise, Mobileye or Zoox. There has also been a shift in urgency to reach the top spot, as it seems likely that the software will be road-ready long before national regulators give it the green light.

This is due to the fear surrounding self-driving vehicles and the negative press they have received. Accidents involving autonomous vehicles receive much more media attention than road accidents involving human drivers, and this has led to growing concerns about self-driving vehicles. These cars are likely to need to be several orders of magnitude better than human drivers before regulators allow them on all roads.

Waymo, Cruise, Tesla, Mobileye and Baidu are considered the leaders in self-driving technology. Of the five, Waymo and Cruise both target level five autonomous driving, defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers as when a vehicle performs all motor functions without requiring any human attention or interaction. Tesla and Mobileye, on the other hand, are building driver assistance services while achieving higher levels of range in the future.

While it could be argued that self-driving vehicles will never pass supervised testing, there are signs that regulators are cutting back on the amount of red tape for these operators. In some countries and US states, operators are now able to run tests without a human in the front seat and may even charge public rates.

Waymo expects a tenfold increase in rides over the next two years, while Cruise is aiming for $1 billion in ride revenue by 2025. This infers a huge increase in the availability of self-driving vehicles to the general public and a disruption of some of the barriers that have kept users away from these vehicles.

There’s also China to think about, which has some of the largest self-driving operations in the world, coming from Baidu, WeRide, AutoX, and The US and Europe may be feeling the pinch from overregulation, but in China, there seems to be more of a push from lawmakers to put self-driving cars on the road. Chinese citizens are also less afraid of self-driving than the United States and Europe.

Once autonomous driving is normalized in China, we may see a change in the attitude of regulators outside of China. This is especially true if Chinese automakers continue to see growth in Southeast Asia and Europe, as has been the case over the past half-decade, when Chinese EV makers have seen exports ramp up rapidly.

However, the United States may not need videos of Chinese citizens taking self-driving car rides to reverse the fear. As Waymo, Cruise and others expand the size of their trials and launch into more states, this hesitation to ride a self-driving vehicle should lessen, at least for those who want to give it a try.

It will still be some time before autonomous driving becomes standard in a new car, but ride-hailing services could integrate self-driving vehicles into their fleet in the coming years, especially in specific markets like California, where self-driving the laws are the most progressive.

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