No one doubts that the technology needed to create fully self-driving cars will eventually happen. Scientists and engineers around the world are working on the issue and it seems just a matter of time before they are used on the road in “real” traffic.
There are many complications. Car driving is something people have done for a century. It’s not only seen as central to the lifestyle of people in places such as Canada and the United States, but also a necessary tool to get to work, run errands, get the kids to school, etc.
Changing that will require a major shift in how people run their lives.
So how far off is the reality of people using autonomous cars? Most experts believe it will be decades before that kind of technology will be in the hands of “average” drivers. The following are three of the self-driving hurdles that must be cleared before that can happen.
Americans spend an average of $30,000 on a new car, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. In contrast, Fast Company reports that the self-driving version of the Toyota Prius will cost $320,000, including the visual and radar sensors and GPS array.
That’s far, far beyond the cost that average drivers can afford.
Of course, that’s just a test car in 2017. By 2025, self-driving cars are expected to cost about $10,000 more than a “regular” car. That amount will be cut down to $3,000 by 2035.
Kevin Clark, CEO of Aptiv, a company focusing on the development of self-driving cars, told Business Insider that the cost will drop radically by 2025. But it will take that long to create a viable market for individual buyers.
As pointed out in Scientific American, tests need to be done to ensure that self-driving cars will provide benefits without causing any damage to those who use them. They equated self-driving car tests to the testing done on new prescription medication.
For example, how will self-driving cars react to a drunk driver swerving all over the road or encountering a vehicle going the wrong way? There also are the issues of every day driving – sudden stops, unexpected lane changes or someone on their cell phone crossing over the lanes.
These issues come up every day. Human drivers, who everyone assumes will still be on the road for decades to come, can prove wildly unpredictable.
While the Obama administration had 116 rules for self-driving cars, the Trump administration has cut them down to 26. Clearly, the rules in this area still need a thorough hashing out before self-driving cars can mix in with real-world traffic.
What Companies Will Emerge?
Right now, it’s unclear whether any of the current automakers can find a way to develop self-driving cars that are affordable for individuals.
Ray Kapoor, Lyft’s chief strategy officer, predicted a “gut wrenching” decade among automakers trying to get a handle on the potential autonomous vehicle market, according to Business Insider. As with all innovative technology, the more people buy it, the further down the price can drop. But at the current levels, that’s not possible.
Most experts think that a handful of companies will emerge to offer self-driving cars in a limited way, much like Tesla has slowly broken into the car market with its electric cars. The German car companies – Audi, Mercedes and BMW – have been among the most active automakers to pursue self-driving technologies. But that’s largely because their buyers are generally more affluent.
Where will all this lead? As with all emerging technology, it’s hard to predict. What’s for certain is that the move toward developing fully self-driving cars is accelerating. At some point, someone will figure out a way to make them both safe and affordable, but that could be many years away.