How Close Are We to a Self-Driving Car?

Woman in self driving car
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Will We See Fully Autonomous Cars in the Near Future?

Just about every major automaker is working on some level of self-driving technology. Of course, some companies are much further along than others with technological progress and monetary investments. Regardless of these initiatives, government regulations will have a major impact on timelines and deployment. Automotive insurance, liability concerns, and recent tragic incidents may also stall adoption.

While many automakers are delving into the technology, most are doing so in partnership with other automakers, tech companies, suppliers, ride-sharing companies, or any combination of these. There are also hardware and software makers, along with other independent companies and startups, joining the self-driving race. The numbers of entrants is seemingly endless.

This new segment is full of official (and unofficial) partnerships and an inextricable web of acquisitions and affiliations, all of which make it difficult to follow and predict. As soon as one company announces progress or a partnership, a competitor claims further progress, increased spending, and sometimes a new affiliation with that same partner.

For example, Waymo (formerly Google self-driving) uses FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids (plug-in hybrid minivans) for testing. However, it was recently reported that Waymo has approached Honda for vehicles. Will this end the FCA partnership or just expand Waymo’s fleet? The companies have not made such information clear.

Tesla has long been associated with self-driving efforts via its Autopilot system. Early vehicles equipped with Mobileye’s technology found much success in semi-autonomous driving. In fact, despite a serious, fatal accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that Tesla’s autosteer feature has been proven to reduce vehicle crash rates substantially.

Fast forward to the present, and Mobileye has cut ties with the Silicon Valley electric car maker and was subsequently acquired by Intel. Tesla is in the process of reinventing its own proprietary self-driving system, which has set its timeline back considerably. Meanwhile, Intel is offering the Mobileye tech to other automakers.

As of late 2017, reports claimed a total of about $80 billion invested in autonomous technology by all parties involved. This figure only includes publicized data, so the actual value is likely significantly higher.

So, what can we make of it all? Which company will be first to market? When can we expect this to become a reality?

As with any new tech-related venture, self-driving cars (autonomous vehicles) are still a bit of a mystery in terms of timelines and specifics. Though most entrants want credit for being innovative and are willing to give soft target dates, care must be taken to keep intellectual property under wraps, not make false promises, and assure that the systems are safe. A few recent fatalities involving self-driving vehicles may work to push back timelines. However, lengthy investigations are underway, so it’s difficult to determine the future impact at this time.

First, we’ll take a look at what defines a self-driving car. Then, we’ll detail which automotive brands and related companies are making serious strides and investments related to self-driving cars, with specific information about projects and anticipated timelines. Finally, we’ll provide a brief look at the current regulatory approval, insurance, and liability considerations surrounding the eventual deployment of self-driving cars.

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