Autonomous cars are the future. The menial task of driving left to the cars themselves, we could relax in the seat while we reached our destination. This is the future we have been sold again and again over the past decade. Whether its Uber going gwang-ho or Google screaming at the top of its lungs, this is a story we have been to and again and again…. and again.
But how far are we from that future, really? How much progress has been made? Will we see driverless cars roaming our streets by the turn of this decade or is it all just a pipe dream sold by our tech overlords.
Reading the articles and the statements by companies and you’ll be thinking that they are almost here. That you will wake up tomorrow to the news of Uber releasing its first driverless taxi or Tesla launching its first self-driving car. The truth is seldom the same. While there has been constant, and at times impressive (the amount of investment made sure of that), progress in the autonomous car tech, we are still far from the Utopian future of robotic and collusion free traffic of the future.
How far are we really?
To be honest, not very far, but not nearly close enough to be called close as well. Although there are pilot programs all over the place, we are not close enough to the tech being mainstream to be called close.
Waymo is the leader in autonomous car technology and they still need some refining if the tech needs to be put into mass production. The company is as close as it gets, wit pilot programs running in a few cities, where their driverless cars are in action, actually taking people from one place to another.
When I meant not very far this is what I meant. Driverless shuttles are already being tested in the busy downtown streets of Ohio, Detroit and Columbus while campus roundabouts are occurring in various colleges of the country. But campus roundabouts are different, the traffic is predictable, and roads are well marked and provide the ideal place to test out such a technology.
The only place they seem close to reality is commercial heavy machinery. A farm or a mine is the place to go to if you want to see driverless vehicles in action. Autonomous vehicles have been operating in such places for almost five years now and are the only kind of self-driving vehicles commercially available.
The closest to a self-driving car you will find in the market today is Tesla’s lane assist. While it is far from being called completely autonomous, it is as close as it will ever get without being truly autonomous. While Musk has claimed he will get truly autonomous cars to the market by 2020, it is an ambitious statement to say in the least. So, if you are looking for a driverless taxi to pick you up on you r yard, it is not coming tomorrow or even in this decade, perhaps.