Definition: An autonomous car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of May 2017 automated cars permitted on public roads are not yet fully autonomous. They all require a human driver at the wheel who is ready at a moment’s notice to take control of the vehicle.
Autonomous cars use a variety of techniques to detect their surroundings, such as radar, laser light, GPS, odometry, and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. Autonomous cars have control systems that are capable of analyzing sensory data to distinguish between different cars on the road, which is very useful in planning a path to the desired destination.
Among the potential benefits of autonomous cars is a significant reduction in traffic collisions; the resulting injuries; and related costs, including a lower need for insurance. Autonomous cars are also predicted to offer major increases in traffic flow; enhanced mobility for children, the elderly, disabled and poor people; the relief of travelers from driving and navigation chores; lower fuel consumption; significantly reduced needs for parking space in cities; a reduction in crime; and the facilitation of different business models for mobility as a service, especially those involved in the sharing economy.
Among the main obstacles to widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles, in addition to the technological challenges, are disputes concerning liability; the time period needed to turn an existing stock of vehicles from non-autonomous to autonomous; resistance by individuals to forfeit control of their cars; consumer concern about the safety of driverless cars; implementation of legal framework and establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars; risk of loss of privacy and security concerns, such as hackers or terrorism; concerns about the resulting loss of driving-related jobs in the road transport industry; and risk of increased suburbanization as driving becomes faster and less onerous without proper public policies in place to avoid more urban sprawl.
Synonyms: Driverless car; Self-driving car; Robotic car
Why is this important? Autonomous vehicles are going to dramatically change the world. The self-driving car will likely change society more than any technology has over the past century. Roads will be safer, we’ll have more free time, cities will be reshaped and traffic may become a thing of the past.
A classification system based on six different levels (ranging from none to fully automated systems) is published by SAE International, an automotive standardization body. Summary of 6 levels of driving automation:
- Level 0 – No automation: The driver does all the work.
- Level 1 – Driver assistance: A computer lends a hand occasionally such as with cruise control.
- Level 2 – Partial automation: The car can help you drive. It can steer, accelerate and decelerate without the driver touching the steering wheel or pedals. Tesla’s ‘autopilot’ system is the best-known example of this. The driver can’t take his hands off the wheel and if there is a problem, the driver must immediately take over.
- Level 3 – Conditional automation: The car is responsible for driving, monitoring the environment and making decisions. No company has a Level 3 on the market yet, but many say one will be available within five years. A human must be ready to take over if the sensors fail.
- Level 4 – High automation: The car can drive in all situations by itself, as long as it stays in a safe, well-mapped area. This is the first level where the driver can take a nap.
- Level 5 – Full automation: The car can go anywhere, any time, in any weather. No steering wheel, no pedals. There is no need for the driver to pay attention because he or she can’t take over control anyway.
When will it be relevant to me? Predictions for the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles range from a few years to a few decades, a disparity exacerbated by varying definitions of “autonomous.” While some people use this word to describe cars that self-drive only in specific conditions, others peg their estimates to the point at which cars are so autonomous that they don’t even need a steering wheel, or a brake pedal. Although the estimates vary widely, there seems to be some consensus of having the first fully autonomous cars commercially available by 2019-21.
Economics / impact: From 2025 to 2035, growth in the market for partially and fully autonomous vehicles will likely reach between $42 billion and $77 billion (BCG).
Ecosystem: In order to realize the mainstream adoption of autonomous cars multiple stakeholders need to work together, starting with the automotive OEMs and suppliers, but also Tech companies, Insurers, Cities and Governments. The next 10 years will bring more changes to the automotive industry and the whole ecosystem than we have seen probably in the last 50 or even 70 years. For automotive players – be it traditional ones, be it suppliers, but be it also a number of new entrants that we will see and are already seeing from the tech world, or from new, innovative service solutions.
- The next stage of development will take effect in 2018, when cars will become even more intelligent, thanks to more advanced driver comfort features. This will be accompanied by regulations that permit hands-off driving on motorways for the first time.
- The advent of automated driving by 2019-21, cars with the latest technologies will be able to take complete control on defined segments of motorways, which will allow the driver to do other things – even reading a book.
- By 2025, all the pieces of the technological jigsaw will be in place and the most advanced new cars will be able to drive themselves from starting point to destination, without the ‘driver’ having to do anything.