Autonomous car throttles back
Twelve years ago, the era of the self-driving car seemed to have dawned. Today, manufacturers have become more cautious with such statements. Clearly, there are no timelines anymore.
Self-driving car only in certain areas
“We overestimated the arrival of self-propelled cars”, said Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford Motor, on Wednesday at an event in Detroit. “Ford still wants to develop a self-propelled model within two years, but the application will be limited, in a virtually defined area”, he adds. The statement is striking, because a few years ago the self-propelled revolution seemed to be just around the corner.
Other players agree
Volvo’s CEO also warned at the end of March that a premature launch could cut off self-propelled technology. And technology giants, Uber and Google, who invest billions in the development of autonomous cars, are becoming increasingly cautious. “When the self-propelled car gets here? That’s a billion-dollar question”, answered Raquel Urtasun of Uber last week in an interview with Reuters. “It’s going to take some time.”
Already in 2007, the self-propelled SUV of the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) won the Darpa Urban Challenge, in which cars without a driver had to follow a course, while respecting the traffic rules and interfering with human drivers. “Since that day, it is no longer a question of whether self-propelled cars will be available, but when”, said Rajkumar, professor of robotics at CMU.
Step by step
“It is true that there is not yet a car you can drop in the middle of nowhere that will find its way home by itself”, says Marc Proesmans, expert in autonomous driving at the KU Leuven. However, many of the technologies developed for self-propelled vehicles are already being used in our daily cars for driving aids, such as lane assistant or active cruise control.
Autonomous cars by 2030
Five levels of autonomous driving will be made available. At level one, the driver has full control and at level five a driver is no longer required. “But we’re not there yet”, thinks Bart Lannoo, who develops car-to-car communication for the University of Antwerp and Imec. “I don’t see such a fully self-propelled car on the market until 2030. First there will be many intermediate steps”, Lannoo continues.
Within five years, cars will already be equipped with technology that allows them to communicate with each other or with road infrastructure, such as the Imec project is to equip the E313 between Antwerp and Ranst. “Interaction with (human) unpredictability remains the biggest challenge. Also fatal accidents with an Uber self-propelled test car and with Tesla’s Autopilot have reminded us that a self-propelled car must be foolproof”, Lannoo concludes.