Autonomous cars still not ready in 2020
It is still not clear when and if autonomous cars will come on the market. Last year alone, thirty companies invested $16 billion in the technology, with no prospect of a launch date. Consumers are also critical.
Executives at General Motors, Google subsidiary Waymo, Toyota, and Honda predicted a few years ago that their company would introduce an autonomous car by 2020. Elon Musk even predicted it would be in 2018. When he missed that deadline, he launched 2020 as a new deadline.
The enthusiasm came from the tremendous leap that technology then seemed to make in the field of artificial intelligence. Self-learning computers delivered promising work. Laser scanners could capture a car’s environment in much more detail.
It went so fast that autonomous cars would soon flood the market, the CEOs thought. That didn’t happen. The latest technology can help to brake automatically, keep your car in its lane, and temporarily take over the wheel on the highway. But you still can’t buy a fully autonomous car in 2020.
Yet the development has already cost tens of billions. KBC published a graph based on calculations from the specialized tech site ‘The Information’. It shows that a group of thirty companies worldwide spent more than $16 billion (€14,8 billion) last year alone on the development of a completely autonomous car.
For the time being, that capital yielded little income. It is likely that billions more will be needed before the commercialization of the technology can be considered, KBC predicts. In an effort to try to limit the financial impact, companies cooperate to develop the technology or invest in start-ups that already have a lot of experience.
The main problem is the lack of test data on public roads. Self-learning computers require billions of hours of training in order to be able to assess all possible traffic situations reliably. Some situations are rare and potentially deadly. Some call people that die in autonomous car tests ‘martyrs’ for a safer future.
Collecting test data on public roads is expensive. The two companies that accumulate the most test kilometers on public roads are Alphabet subsidiary, Waymo, and Cruise (GM). It is no coincidence that these are also two of the three companies that invested the most by far in completely autonomous cars. They are gradually getting closer to their goal.
In Arizona, a limited audience can already book an autonomous Waymo car without a driver. If successful, the test could be extended to some American cities later this year.
Focus on electric
The enthusiasm of classic car companies for the autonomous car has waned. The focus there is now mainly on electric cars.
“Suppliers and corporations working on the technology have made significant changes to their plans for the introduction of artificial intelligence,” Toyota’s vice president, Shigeki Tomoyama, told Reuters at the end of last year. “We overestimated the introduction of the autonomous car,” said Ford CEO, Jim Hackett, a few months ago.