What Is the Future of Autonomous Vehicles: Expert’s Decade Forecast

The “autonomous driving” has been a buzzword for years. We have visions of it ever since the 90s sci-fi movies were a thing. There are now multiple companies that work on these self-driving vehicles, and they even have test versions already on the streets.

However, the automotive industry took a step back after one of Uber’s autonomous cars killed a pedestrian in Arizona last year, which was the first fatal accident of its kind. It has raised many questions about our safety on the road when such vehicles become a common thing.

Nevertheless, hundreds of headlines come out promising fully autonomous vehicles to be on the streets by the end of the year. That’s in sharp contrast with opinions and analysis which suggests that they won’t be ready to be commercially available for the next ten to fifteen years.

As established developers of automotive software, we’ve decided to filter these contrasting opinions and create a timeline of the most exciting announcements in the autonomous driving field for the next decade. First of all, let’s have a look at the automation levels, to make sure we’re on the same page.

Defining Automation Levels

SAE International defines five different levels of automation. They go from no automation to full automation. People are not aware of these levels, and that’s why car manufacturers rarely mention them, what most of them mean that their autonomous vehicles promises are level 3 or level 4 cars.

Level 4 ones can drive themselves almost all the time if you live in a covered area, and level 3, which are most commonly seen loud drive themselves for a part of a person’s highway commute. However, the fully autonomous vehicles (level 5) are nowhere in executives’ promises yet.

Now, let’s have a look at the plans of leading companies in this sphere, that could show us what and when we could expect.

Ford – Fully Autonomous Vehicle by 2021

A couple of years ago, Ford made a massive investment in Argo AI – an Artificial Intelligence company, in their drive for autonomous vehicle leadership. Their idea was to combine the expert knowledge of both companies to create a fully autonomous vehicle. However, according to CNBC, the CEO of Ford explained they plan to have a level 4 vehicle.

They’ll be skipping level 3 ones and going straight to level 4. They also claim that the vehicles that would be shown to the world in 2021 will have no gas pedal or steering wheel. They will be able to drive passengers around certain cities by themselves.

General Motors – Pioneers In Latest Technology

General Motors, a pioneer company in automation, has recently announced that they’re building a new specialized research and development facility, which would work only on Cruise Automation. They’re among the companies that are moving most aggressively towards automation. However, they haven’t set a specific release date for their self-driving cars, nor a timeline for their progress.

Reuters’ earlier prediction was that GM would deploy electric self-driving cars together with Lyft next year. They tend to focus on mobility as a service for the first use of their autonomous vehicles. Nevertheless, such cars need not only a software upgrade to be able to operate in a specific geographic area. There are also significant external additions, which could turn away average car buyers.

Toyota – Autonomous Vehicles By Next Year

Toyota was known to be the most skeptical company when it comes to autonomous vehicles. For that reason, in 2015, they had to make a considerable investment to catch up. Now their Research institute works on developing robotics and AI technology.

Toyota’s visions include launching vehicles that could drive themselves on highways in 2020. The CEO of Toyota Research Institute believes that neither the automobile nor the IT industries are even close to achieving level 5 autonomy. On the other hand, many companies will be able to launch level 4 cars within a decade, which would be used mostly by ride-sharing companies.

Hyundai – Working For The Average Customer

Of course, Hyundai is also working on their self-driving cars, but their focus is mostly on making them affordable. They claim that their operating system would use less computing power. It would make their platform low-cost, which means average customers would be able to afford it.

Their first target is autonomous driving on the highway by next year. Later on, in 2030, urban driving as well. To make that possible, they have made one of the most significant investments in this innovation yet.


The Overall Decade Forecast

The automotive industry is expected to see a large number of self-driving cars in 2020. However, companies are being overly optimistic sometimes, to earn media attention. On the other hand, we mention a couple of accidents that make people rather pessimistic about technology.

Companies timelines go all the way to 2030 for automation level 4 vehicles. That’s because such require the right technological and legal frameworks. Despite the skepticism, if you live in a large city, you’ll probably be able to experience some form of autonomous driving in less than a decade. When it comes to automation level 5 vehicles, that are fully autonomous experts share the opinion that we’re not even close to it and couldn’t make further predictions.