AV Reality Check: How Far Off Is Widespread Self-Driving?

As the world anxiously anticipates a future of autonomous vehicles, many challenges remain.

4 Min Read
AV (Siemens)
Regulators, insurers will have say in AV development.Siemens

From Knight Rider’s KITT to the Batmobile, we’ve been fascinated for decades with futuristic, self-driving cars. Until a few years ago, these autonomous vehicles (AVs) seemed like they could only exist thanks to the magic of Hollywood. But that’s not the case anymore.

Today, automakers are attempting to deliver truly autonomous vehicles at scale – without steering wheels, accelerators or brakes. In the auto industry, these cars are classified as Level 5 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and require no human interaction whatsoever, meaning drivers will take a backseat to ADAS technology – and sit back, too.

Despite companies’ best efforts to produce these new-age cars, we’re still a long way off from fully autonomous vehicles. It’s time for an AV reality check.

Much like a smartphone, AVs require an established infrastructure to support frequent software updates. Currently, automakers and technology providers are focusing their efforts on improving ADAS software, telecommunications capabilities and greater cloud integrations to do so. Over-the-air updates will become more common, improving the ability to fix problems remotely and add new features on demand as the industry prepares for true Level 5 ADAS vehicles to be released to market.

Laundry List of Challenges

Automakers and technology enterprises still have many cycles of development and testing ahead of them before they can truly mass-produce AVs. Ensuring Level 5 ADAS cars can anticipate and safely react to any scenario, from head-on collisions to icy road conditions, will require companies to address various gaps across their coding, network latency and artificial intelligence capabilities. This means automakers and technology providers must test drive AVs for thousands of hours to train the software. And given that AVs are embedded with vast amounts of complex technologies, there also is an ever-present threat of cybersecurity breaches that automakers must account for as they develop their models.

The challenges don’t stop there. Technology issues aside, AVs likely won’t become ubiquitous in the auto market until state and federal agencies develop more robust regulations and stamp their seal of approval. Insurance companies also will play a large role in determining how quickly AVs will scale in the auto market. Insurers not only will have to decide if or how they’ll underwrite AVs, but also determine if the car company or driver is liable for possible accidents, property damage or injury. Taken as a whole, the auto industry and the ecosystems of business, law, policy and culture have a long road ahead to provide solutions for mass market deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Progress Will Be Made…Slowly, but Surely

Although the auto industry has quite a few hurdles to clear before Level 5 ADAS vehicles are widely available, the future of AVs is still bright. Once one automaker, insurance company or state successfully addresses their AV concerns, many others likely will follow.

Initially, Level 5 ADAS vehicles likely will appeal to a small segment of the general population, namely technology and car enthusiasts. According to the American Automobile Assn., only 12% of people would feel safe riding in fully self-driving cars – with over half of drivers citing accident liability and inadequate regulatory concerns. Unfortunately, that means AVs are stuck in a catch-22: Drivers will only buy these cars if they know they’re safe and properly insured, but automakers will scale operations only if consumer demand is present, and insurance companies and regulatory bodies can’t determine their approach to AVs without their broader introduction into the auto market.

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Commercial clients could solve this problem, helping change AVs’ public perception and stimulate consumer interest. Automakers should look to municipalities and businesses interested in becoming early AV adopters to increase consumer confidence in Level 5 ADAS vehicles. Great strides likely will be made in ADAS feature development for business and public transport, including metropolitan bus fleets, airport shuttles, commercial long-haul trucking and last-mile unmanned delivery. All of these will help increase confidence in the viability of ADAS vehicles as a real option for safe, reliable transportation for consumer use.

It’s hard to estimate exactly when we’ll see truly autonomous vehicles on the road. Automakers and technology companies are busy developing these new-age cars, but other industry players also will write this next chapter of automotive history. Despite the aura surrounding AVs, consumers will look to insurers and state and federal agencies before they widely accept – and purchase – Level 5 ADAS vehicles.   

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Daniel Davenport (pictured above, left), Senior Director of Automotive at Capgemini Americas, is a connected mobility solutions expert with 25 years of experience in the automotive industry. Mathew Desmond (pictured, left), Automotive Industry Solutions Architect for Capgemini Americas, has more than 20 years of experience with automotive and heavy equipment OEMs and captive finance units.

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