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.