Everyone seems to be super bullish on autonomous vehicles these days. Pundits and product planners alike are hailing this technology as the industry’s next big game changer, but not everyone is so optimistic.
At the ITS World Congress, which took place in Tokyo last week, experts in the field curiously backpedaled on their opinion of autonomy, urging caution going forward. In years past this event hailed the coming of self-driving cars, but now expectations are being scaled back. The technology faces numerous hurdles that go far beyond mere technical challenges.
For instance, there are no clear-cut industry standards, regulations are essentially nonexistent and there are serious concerns about liability. With companies like Nissan, Tesla and Google racing to deliver fully autonomous vehicles by 2020 these questions are going to have to be answered sooner rather than later.
Another real concern is vehicle-to-vehicle communications. If automakers decide to tap into drivers’ smartphones in order to implement this idea it could easily overwhelm even today’s advanced 4G LTE cellular networks. We’re talking about massive amounts of data that would have to be sent out and taken in.
On the other hand, aging populations in countries like Japan and the United States could give an unexpected boost to autonomous technology. Something like 90 percent of all traffic accidents are caused by motorist error and self-driving vehicles could boost safety, especially for vulnerable people, like the elderly.
Preparing for a future of autonomous vehicles, car companies like Toyota are starting to integrate communications technology that allows cars to talk to one another in order to avoid collisions. In addition to that, General Motors is planning to launch semi-autonomous vehicles in the coming years.
Another issue that could drive the adoption of self-driving cars is youth apathy. Many young people are more interested in iPhones and Xboxes, in bits and bytes than they are nuts and bolts. Autonomous vehicles could get teenagers interested in cars.
Technology keeps advancing, as does the goal of having an autonomous vehicle fleet, but there are still many challenges that need to be addressed and many questions answered.