An article in USA Today cites, “Three stages before cars are fully self driving,” breaks the transition to autonomous cars down into three stages. While, according to the article, developers are “truly are on the cusp of the kind of automation that signals that the future has arrived, one in which a car actually makes all of the decisions about travel”—and the technology is there-an important questions remains:
“When can I buy a truly autonomous car, one that only needs me to tell it where to go?”
The next stage—called “The Semi-Autonomous Near-Future”—is slated for between now and 2020 is more or less upon us: The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan “has almost everything you’d need for a fully autonomous vehicle experience.” The article continues:
From the sensors to the telematics, all that the E-Class and its new Drive Pilot function would require is a software update to make it mostly (but not fully) autonomous. It’s so ready that Mercedes-Benz is testing autonomous versions of the E-Class on public roads. They’re using cars that are mechanically identical to ones you can buy in showrooms, just with different software.
The article warns, however, that despite these advances, “the technology to make the cars fully autonomous won’t be ready quite yet.” Specifically, the need “to create the software needed for non-routine events on the road (construction, inclement weather, random incidents of unforeseen natures)” is “a bit further out.”
The article posits that this next stage, termed “The Fully Autonomous Medium-Future,” will be realized between 2020 and 2025. In this stage, we may witness “[t]he ability to summon a driverless car, one that may not even have controls for a human driver to operate.”
It is anticipated that Tech behemoth Google will be the first to deliver, given its “massive ongoing investment and its ability to draw from adjacent technologies, including everything from robotics and artificial intelligence to detailed global maps.” But other companies are in the fray:
Perhaps the most interesting concept to come out of the autonomous car push is the idea of the “car as a service,” in which companies such as Uber, Lyft and others own the autonomous cars that you summon like a taxi. Uber in particular has invested heavily in autonomous-vehicle research, largely gutting Carnegie Mellon University’s program a couple of years ago by luring away dozens of top researchers and management. Automakers such as General Motors (with its newly announced Mavencar-sharing service and its recent major investment in Lyft) and Ford (which has partnered with Google and created a Ford Mobility program) all are preparing for a day in which using an autonomous car does not necessarily mean owning that car.
Will automobiles more closely resemble public transportation than the symbol of independence it has embodied since its inception over a century ago? Only time will tell. Stay tuned as our blog tracks this technological—and social—phenomena.
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