NEW YORK, Aug 31 — A number of carmakers, with Nissan being the latest, claim that they are on track to deliver affordable, self-driving cars to their customers by 2020.
This week, ABI Research published its latest report on the future of autonomous cars and made some very bold statements. Chief among which was that truly self-driving cars would become a reality by 2020 and that by 2032, in the US at least, 10 million such new cars would be rolling out of the showrooms and on to the public highways every year.
Immediately after the report was published, Nissan head Carlos Ghosn announced that it is on track to make self-driving cars a reality by the same date — 2020 — and that it was even building its own artificial townscapes with junctions, crossing and other traffic infrastructure in order to accelerate the development process. “I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realise it,” he said.
All of the technologies needed in order to make a car fully autonomous already exist. There are two things that are stopping those technologies being integrated into the current generation of automobiles: legislation — autonomous cars are yet to be regulated by a government and so are illegal on roads — and cost. The components currently add upwards of US$100,000 (RM330,000) to the price tag of a standard car. Even Google’s self-driving cars, which start off as showroom standard Toyotas, cost over US$150,000 each to convert.
These are two sticking points that even ABI acknowledged: “While the technological feasibility of autonomous vehicles is being demonstrated by Google, Audi, Volvo, Bosch, and Continental, obstacles such as high costs and lack of legislation remain. On the other hand, the benefits of autonomous vehicles in terms of safety, cost savings, efficiency, and positive impact on the economy, are driving research and development efforts globally,” said ABI Research VP and practice director Dominique Bonte.
When asked about the validity of the report, Marcus Rothoff, safety strategist in product planning at Volvo Car Group, agreed that the key to bringing autonomous cars to the market would be via incremental improvements on existing active driver aids.
“There will be a step-by-step development of the technologies leading up to full autonomous driving. The next step in this development, for Volvo, is the launch of the Adaptive Cruise Control with steer assist, that will appear with the new SPA platform in 2014. This technology will enable the car to simultaneously keep a distance, follow the car in front and stay within the lanes in low speeds. The driver will only be required to monitor,” he says.
Rothoff believes Volvo can go one, if not two, better than Nissan and start delivering autonomous cars to customers by 2018. “By further development of systems with reduced needs of driver engagement, and an establishment of a legal framework legalising autonomous driving, the basic pre-requisites for the first level of automation have been established. We know the customer interest for autonomous driving technologies, and the positive safety and convenience aspects it brings, is very high and we hope to see joint forces to kick-start the market,” he continues.
Across in Germany, BMW has already clocked up over 10,000 miles of fully autonomous driving on real roads in its pursuit of developing active driver aids and has recently formed a partnership with Continental in order to accelerate the process.
“With our vision of highly automated driving, we are already developing the technologies and methodologies for a range of cutting-edge driver assistance systems. Partially automated driving functions of the near future, like the Traffic Jam Assistant, will mark an important step on the road to highly automated driving,” says Dr Christoph Grote, head of BMW Group Research and Technology, who also claims that BMW is on track to offer fully autonomous cars by 2020.
In its own report, ABI concludes that: “The next phase of autonomous Co-Pilot type vehicles will materialise in this decade. Fully autonomous, self-driving, robotic vehicles will appear 10 years from now.” However, over at Audi, like at Volvo, the goal is to offer its customers a fully-autonomous driving experience before 2020.
In January, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said: “We are assuming that a series-built vehicle with a piloted driving function will be technically feasible this decade,” and, during an address to the delegates at the 19th Handelsblatt Annual Conference in Munich indicated that the ball is now firmly in the court of policymakers and lawmakers, who will have to accelerate the formation of legislation regarding responsibility and liability for piloted driving technology. Something that, in his opinion, is currently a bigger stumbling block than the costs of or levels technology involved in delivering the systems.
And as cars become less and less mechanical and more and more high-tech, they are starting to attract interest from non-automotive organisations who think they can create a synergy. The best-known example is Google, which not so long ago was a search engine but is now on the verge of building its own cars. And now it is about to be joined by Nokia. The phone maker and mapping company believes it has something to bring to the industry in terms of autonomous cars and although it still refuses to go into specifics has made it clear that its next stop will be the connected car market. — AFP-Relaxnews