Recent articles have added to the confusion regarding when fully autonomous vehicles will become common. One suggests that they around the corner with this quote:
“Alphabet plans to launch a self-driving service later this year, while GM Cruise has targeted the introduction of a similar service in 2019. Ford has that it expects to put self-driving vehicles into commercial service by 2021.”
So it sounds like autonomous vehicles will be here this year or next. But wait, here is a counter article. This article points out the many issues to be resolved before fully self-driving cars are launched. Consider this one quote from the article:
“There’s still a lot to be worked out. There are scenarios where the car will have to break the law in order to proceed. One common scenario is, you’re driving down a two-lane highway—one lane each way—and there’s a Fed Ex truck in front of you, parked on the curb. You can’t go around it without crossing the double-yellow line. Are you going to allow the car to break the law? Now, you’re getting into a whole different set of rules, regulations, and even morality decisions.”
These two perspectives were brought home to me recently when I was on a review board for a student projects course, Technology Assessment, taught by friend and colleague, Eric Bish. One of the projects was to assess the viability of bringing fully autonomous vehicles to market by 2021. Reviewing this project helped to clarify the dichotomy between the two perspectives discussed above.
It ends up that the efforts of Alphabet, Ford, and GM are to be launched in very controlled environments. They will only be used in well mapped out routes, with good lane markers, no construction, on days with good weather etc. Note also that the first quote refers to a self driving service, not private autos.
Having an autonomous vehicle that can completely replace a human is still (many?) decades away. There are just too many issues such as the FedEx scenario envisioned above that need to be resolved. I believe that over time, more and more such issues will be discovered and push the date of such vehicles even farther in the future.
Even if, on the whole, early autonomous vehicles are safer, accidents like the one in Phoenix earlier this year, will put a spotlight on autonomous vehicles that will further delay their full advent.
What does all of this portend for the electronics industry? I think these issues will require more electronics and sensors than many believe, so in a sense it is good news for the electronics industry.