Tesla is already making cars capable of driving themselves, Porsche has a high-performance Panamera test vehicle fitted with its latest self-driving technology, Nissan has a fleet of self-driving LEAF electric cars, and Audi recently sent an autonomous A8 car around the Hockenheim ring at race speeds.
But real-world autonomous vehicles won’t hit the market for another six years, says Navigant Research (via Autobloggreen). Once here however, vehicles with autonomous driving functions will rapidly take off, accounting for more than three-quarters of all new vehicles sold by 2035, the research organisation says.
Why the six-year wait between demonstrations of autonomous driving technology and market-readiness? That’s down to several things, including the time it takes for appropriate legislative measures to be taken to prepare for autonomous driving technology, and the difference between demonstrating a technology in a carefully-controlled environment and tackling the real world of the everyday commute.
Despite there being some technical challenges to overcome however, Navigant says the biggest hurdles will be legislative and regulatory based.
Of course, when most of us think of autonomous vehicles, we think of something out of The Jetsons — a vehicle which is so fully autonomous that there’s no input required from any of its occupants. Navigant Research, like so many others examining autonomous driving, warns that vision isn’t likely to happen.
Instead, it predicts, we’ll see autonomous driving technology appear out of existing safety technologies like adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems. As the systems become more complex — and automotive on-board computers become more powerful — we’ll see cars take over more of the regular monotony of driving. This change might happen slowly at first, with luxury cars from brands like Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Audi being first to implement auto pilot features, but will soon expand to cover most vehicles as the safety and fuel economy benefits of autonomous driving technology become known.
Unlike many analysts who predict self-driving technology will be primarily a time-saver for those seeking to take away the monotony of the morning commute, Navigant Research also predicts a growth of autonomous driving technology will take place outside of the world of the private automobile, with long-distance delivery drivers a prime beneficiary of self-driving technology.
Like airline pilots, it predicts long-distance truck drivers could manually start their journeys on surface streets, but switch to autopilot driving as soon as they hit a major highway or freeway. The drive would then be free to either rest or carry out other duties while the truck takes care of high-speed cruising, leaving the driver refreshed and ready to take over again at their next off-ramp.
Obviously, Navigant Research’s paper — entitled “Autonomous Vehicles” — is only a predictive report rather than a set-in-stone vision of the future. But like Navigant’s other research papers, all of its predictions are based on analysing current data from industry professionals and extrapolating the data set forward.
Will the dawn of self-driving cars really happen within the next six years? Or will political red-tape get in the way?
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