Autonomous cars: When will hype become reality?

  • Autonomous-driving expectations ‘inflated’
  • Want one? 47% said only ‘maybe’
  • Skipping a development level mooted

TU-Automotive’s SUSAN KUCHINSKAS explores the hype around autonomous drive vehicles, an article particularly relevant in July 2016 as BMW announced a partnership stating that such vehicles would be on the roads by 2021.


MUNICH, Germany – Autonomous vehicles are at the peak of a hype cycle, says Thilo Koslowski, vice-president, analyst and founder of the Automotive Practice Division at US-based research company Gartner.

Right now, (July 2016) he says, consumers have inflated expectations of vehicles that can drive themselves.

“We have to reset those expectations,” he warns. “It will be many years before drivers will be able to sleep while their cars get them to work.”

He also promises that self-driving cars won’t linger too long in a trough of disillusion. Citing a Gartner consumer survey, he says that, when people were asked if they wanted a car that could drive itself, 27% said they “were very interested”; 41% said “maybe”.

MAJOR PROBLEMS STILL TO BE SOLVED

Koslowski reiterates that fully autonomous vehicles will be on the world’s road by 2020, with significant penetration by 2030. He also predicted: “By 2020, 10% of today’s vehicle owners in mature markets will give up vehicle ownership for on-demand access.”

While autonomy is a given – you can already see it in action on highways and city streets (lane-following, cruise control, auto braking etc – it’s very easy to forget that really major problems have yet to be solved, one of them the machine-to-human hand-off.

Jim Mazurek, senior vice-president of automotive sales and business development at Neusoft, says: “When you tell people ‘we’ll drive for you but you have to supervise the car at all times’ it’s unlikely to be perceived as real customer value.”

READ more autonomous driving features on Carman’s Corner

Olaf Preissner, head of UX automotive and innovations at Luxoft, notes: “When systems get more reliable, takeover skills get worse.” This is an established problem in commercial aviation: pilots are required to take training to maintain their skills. Will drivers be willing to do the same?

“The system must deliver the right amount of engagement at the right time to keep the driver’s mind from wandering.”

‘LEVEL 3 IS THE TRICKY ONE’

It’s not only a human-machine interface (HMI) problem, he added, but also a people problem – and everyone was different. “We can design the tech but how do you tune it to deal with the behaviour of individuals?”

Now that automakers have firmly planted in everyone’s mind that autonomous driving will progress through several levels before true driverless driving experts have started to talk about skipping Level 3.

Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, general manager of the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Centre, says: “Level 3 is the tricky one. You have a thing that encourages you to delegate driving but you can’t because, if something happens, it’s your fault.

“Level 2 systems are amazing and will radically improve commuting for most citizens. We would like to leapfrog from 2 to 4.”

LAS VEGAS IDEAL FOR DEPLOYMENT

Chris Heiser, CEO of Renovo Motors, says the industry should stop dithering. “Autonomy may not be perfect,” he warns. “Self-driving cars may still be involved in crashes. Yes, there’s a level of risk but they’ll still be better than human drivers.”

Finally, Roger Lanctot, associate director of a global automotive practice Strategy Analytics, posits that fully autonomous vehicles such as Google cars – they have no steering-wheel or pedals – might best be deployed in American cities such as Las Vegas where automotive and pedestrian congestion are expected to exceed capacity soon.

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