Autonomous cars still about 20 years away says new report

Posted on 19 Mar 2015 by Tim Brown
The latest autonomous drive Nissan Leaf test vehicle being readied for continued city testing outside the automaker’s research center in Silicon Valley - image courtesy of Nissan.
The latest autonomous drive Nissan Leaf test vehicle being readied for continued city testing outside the automaker’s research center in Silicon Valley - image courtesy of Nissan.

It will likely be sometime before you see autonomous cars, even though autonomous vehicles are already successfully utilised in open cast mines, nuclear power stations, underwater and in other relatively inaccessible places.

That is the finding of a new IDTechEx report titled: ‘Autonomous Vehicles: Land, Water, Air 2015-2035’.

The report explains that the powertrain and navigation/control technologies of autonomous vehicles have rapidly evolved and are likely to continue to do so over the coming years. This it says provides both good news and bad news for autonomous cars.

The good news is that functionality and affordability will continue to improve but the bad news is that the long term testing of autonomous cars, which is currently being carried out by many automotive and technology companies, may quickly become irrelevant if (and probably more likely when) a new disruptive technology emerges.

The report asks: ‘What use is a five year test on a Radar when Lidar replaces it? What to do with long term tests on a battery when it is replaced by one of the new lithium-ion capacitors?’

The vast number of new innovations may bring improvements but the report argues that they will also bring an initial lack of reliability and predictability.

In numbers and probably market value, the report finds that most substantially-autonomous vehicles will be made up of smaller electric devices such as robot vacuum cleaners.

However, the report also says that from 2015 – 2025, minimally autonomous cars may start to enter the market at low numbers but says that number will significantly increase beyond 2025. And, according to the report, by 2035 cars on the road featuring sophisticated autonomous systems will number more than 40 million.

Google doesn’t agree with this forecast though. Google director Chris Urmson told this week’s TED conference in Vancouver, that his team was committed to having fully automated, legal vehicles on the roadways in in less than five years.

Tesla Motors boss Elon Musk, however, believes that the two decade time frame is realistic, by which time he says self-driving cars will overtake the roads, and human drivers could be banned from operating vehicles entirely.