Say Goodbye to the Steering Wheel

Google will soon begin rolling out the first of 100 self-dri­ving micro­cars, most of which will have some famil­iar fea­tures miss­ing, name­ly such tra­di­tion­al neces­si­ties as a steer­ing wheel, brake and gas ped­al.

And while the Google vehi­cles will just be pro­to­types designed to test the tech firm’s autonomous dri­ving tech­nol­o­gy, a sur­vey of indus­try experts antic­i­pates that the basic design could soon become the norm, rather than the excep­tion.

A sep­a­rate study by Nav­i­gant Research  pre­dict­ed about 95 mil­lion autonomous vehi­cles a year will be sold by 2035.

That fig­ure is “rea­son­able to me,” said Alber­to Brog­gi, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Par­ma, in Italy, a lead­ing researcher on autonomous vehi­cles. But he ques­tions whether all of those vehi­cles will be ful­ly autonomous or still allow motorists to take con­trol if they want – or need – to.

A ques­tion sub­mit­ted to the experts by TheDetroitBureau.com found that ful­ly half don’t see the Google pro­to­type becom­ing a viable solu­tion for at least the next 20 years, mean­ing steer­ing wheels, horns and mir­rors are like­ly here to stay – for awhile, any­way.

While experts might quib­ble over such specifics, there is an over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus that autonomous vehi­cles are on their way. And they could arrive soon­er than most had thought pos­si­ble just a decade ago.

Nis­san CEO Car­los Ghosn reit­er­at­ed his company’s plans to have its first ful­ly self-dri­ving car – albeit still with dri­ver con­trols – on the road by 2020. And Ghosn said that between now and then Nis­san will roll out a num­ber of semi-autonomous tech­nolo­gies. That includes a sys­tem that will be able to auto­mat­i­cal­ly maneu­ver a busy urban inter­sec­tion with­out dri­ver input.

Brog­gi cau­tions that “there are still a num­ber of chal­lenges that have not yet been solved,” and which will need to be dealt with before Nis­san, or Google, or any­one else can deliv­er a ful­ly autonomous vehi­cle that can com­plete­ly take over dri­ving duties from a human motorist. The biggest issue is “get­ting every­thing to work every sin­gle minute of the day.”

What will it take to get there? The crit­i­cal break­through will come with the devel­op­ment of advanced sen­sors that will serve as the eyes and ears of tomorrow’s self-dri­ving vehi­cles. The big­ger chal­lenge will be giv­ing autonomous vehi­cles the sort of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence need­ed to han­dle a sit­u­a­tion that doesn’t fit into the rules.

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