In November 2013, my boardgaming group had a driveway-discussion about self-driving cars. We started making predictions. We followed up in email. So here is a summary of those discussions/emails.
One thing we came up with were the 4 predictive questions below. I thought more people answered them though. If you add your answers in the comments, or email them to me, I’ll add them inline.
- How any years (which year) until you can get a car that is capable of driving 100% of any journey?
John P: 30 (2033)
Reid: 16 (2029)
- How any years until you can get a car that is capable of driving 100% of *a* journey?
John P: 10 (2023)
Reid: 10 (2023)
- How any years until you can buy an autonomous (by almost any definition) vehicle for less than $75k.
John P: 10 (2023)
Reid: 10 (2023)
- How any years until autonomous cars replace subways/busses/LRTs?
John P: 25 (2036)
Reid: 20 (2033)
I think the big hurdle for full autonomous cards will be the last 2-5% of situations.
I think the *huge* challenge will be like for aeroplane auto-pilots. The cars will be capable of driving themselves *almost* all the time, but if they let the cars do that, the humans will be utterly unprepared for the 2% of the time they’re needed.
I could see it getting really awkward somewhere around 2025. I’m hoping by 2030 or so they’ll actually have truly autonomous cars, but I’m trying to think if there’s *any* activity today, no matter how simple, where we let computers have that level of autonomy. Even automated parking lots have one human attendant.
Actually, I think I do have an example. I’ve read about *highly* automated warehousing (usually ship-related) where humans are confined to specific areas.
It does depend somewhat how you define autonomous. I think it will be a long time before someone without a driver’s license will be allowed alone in a moving car.
However, I fully expect 30% of our driving to be autonomous (in new vehicles) in 10 years, and 75% in 20. There’s no need for a human in stop-and-go traffic, plain-old highway driving, etc
What’ll be interesting is when it becomes legal for the “driver” to be distracted (i.e. watching a video) while “driving” while automation is in control. Any bets as to when the legislation is passed in Ontario?
Scott M’s View
Jan 9, 2014
Not gonna happen in our lifetime. It will take just ONE lawsuit by the family of a child pedestrian killed by an autonomous car because of a “software” glitch.
I’ll bet my left testicle (the right one is my favourite) we won’t see autonomous vehicles in our lifetime.
Dec 24, 2014
Driverless (ie: self-driving) cars prediction? I’d say 25-50 years before they’re “legal” everywhere in North America, at the EARLIEST. Hell, we don’t even have self-driving subways, LRTs, and trains, and those things are on tracks!
Geeks/Nerds (and I include myself in that group) tend to, I think, be far too optimistic when it comes to SOME new tech. There’s a TON of work to do before I’ll trust a computer system to propel a 3,500 to 4,000 pound vehicle at 100kms per hour down the highway.
But that’s just me. And get off my lawn!
John C’s View
So autonomous vehicles will become popular in less litigious countries; and when eventually
it makes economic and political sense, insurance companies and automobile manufacturers
will lobby to get legislation passed in each U.S. state preventing such lawsuits.
Andy B’s View
Robotic drivers are inevitable because $.
If a professional driver costs $45K a year, and a robotic kit costs $15K, then the robot pays for itself in 4 months, and will never want pensions, sick days, vacations or to join a union.
I think as soon as insurance companies see the stats on autonomous cars (autocars), they will ram them down our throats, much the same way they did seat belts. The same thinking applies: if autocars save lives, make them mandatory.
The Scarborough RT has been autonomous since it started in 1985, but the unions pushed a requirement that a driver be onboard. Toronto is the only place that has a driver for this model of train. The Vancouver SkyTrain and the Detroit People Mover are the same model but have no drivers on board. There are trains elsewhere that have been autonomous for years.
Why do you think autonomous cars will have higher accident rates than people? People fail and have accidents all
to which Craig retorted:
Those aren’t autonomous, but automated, controlled centrally. Just something you do with transit systems. We’re getting that on the Yonge line in the next few years, and the Montreal Metro is going that way too.
John B’s View
I am not sure autonomous vehicles replace subways. Even driven better you couldn’t replace the Yonge or Bloor St subways with cars, let alone the London Underground or New York MTA! too many people trying to get into a densely packed destination area. Buses there is a stronger case-ie where the fundamental route density is much lower. It might be LRTs in fact that buses will reduce the need for — those sort of intermediate route densities.
Indeed in cities like Atlanta the minivan solution has always seemed to me to be a good one — 5-8 commuters in a vehicle, perhaps picked up at local shopping mall parking lots (where there is ample parking). AVs in Toronto say seem first and foremost to be a partial amelioration of the 401 problem, ie a road which cannot increase its capacity, but needs to. Which is why they will be tried in California first– there’s no way Los Angeles or Silicon Valley will ever be primarily public transport driven. The other thing AVs will do well is as you suggest, ie in the dispersed point to point market (we all live in suburbs, and drive to other suburbs to work and shop) — think modern Atlanta.
Perhaps the greatest threat to public transport is simply that we commute less: already UK train operators have made comments that the drop in Friday and Monday traffic is noticeable (but when the recession started, ridership picked up!, people thought it prudent to not be ‘working at home’ where the bosses couldn’t see them). Since public transport is all fixed cost infrastructure, that could really ruin the economics (to be honest the Toronto, NYC and London subway systems are so full even outside of rush hours I don’t see it as a big threat).
There is also some evidence that Americans are just driving less (Vehicle Miles Travelled has fallen since 2006) perhaps because one shopping mall looks pretty much like another, and you can see your friends on the internet– ie there is just less need to drive if it does not take you anywhere different. Over to Justin B on all this.
Justin B’s View
The travel density found in central business districts was created with the technological revolution of the 1890s: all those hives of people working in offices. As long as we need to have so many people working together at once, we’ll need mass transit; and the examples John mentions demonstrate the need even for recreational purposes in these cities.
Transport economics is a weird thing. You can’t run a transit system for profit unless private vehicles are not available; but you have to keep the transit system running with public subsidy unless you want transport problems to take over and kill the city; it’s almost as vital as clean water and proper garbage disposal. Well maybe bicycle usage on the scale of big Chinese cities in the 1970s could be another option…
On Jan 9, 2014
- By 2014, Volvo expects vehicles that can be autonomous at up to 31 miles (50 km) per hour, with expected use in heavy traffic.
- By 2014, Israeli company Mobileye expects to release semi-autonomous car technology.
- By 2015, Audi plans to market vehicles that can autonomously steer, accelerate and brake at lower speeds, such as in traffic jams.
- By 2015, Cadillac plans vehicles with “super cruise”: autonomous steering, braking and lane guidance.
- By 2015, Nissan expects to sell vehicles with autonomous steering, braking, lane guidance, throttle, gear shifting, and, as permitted by law, unoccupied self-parking after passengers exit.
- By Mid-2010’s, Toyota plans to roll out near-autonomous vehicles dubbed Automated Highway Driving Assist with Lane Trace Control and Cooperative-adaptive Cruise Control.
- By 2016, Tesla expects to develop technology that operates autonomously for 90 percent of distances driven.
- By 2016, Mobileye expects to release fully autonomous car technology.
- By 2018, Google expects to release their autonomous car technology.
- By 2020, Volvo envisages having cars in which passengers would be immune from injuries.
- By 2020, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan and BMW all expect to sell autonomous cars.
On Dec 25, 2014
- In late 2014, Volvo will feature Adaptive Cruise Control with steer assist which will automatically follow the vehicle ahead in queues. Mercedes already has it on some markets.
- In late 2014, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is expected to set recommendations for setting aside broadband spectrum for autonomous cars.
- By 2015, Tesla says its cars will “probably” be capable of autopilot for 90 percent of miles driven, and definitely so for highway miles. This feature combines automatic lane change, adaptive cruise control, and sign recognition to regulate speed and location.
- By 2015, California will allow the testing of vehicles without wheels or pedals such as Google’s on public roads. This will follow a 120-day grace period after a rule to be introduced in late 2014.
- By the mid-2010s, Toyota plans to roll out near-autonomous vehicles dubbed Automated Highway Driving Assist with Lane Trace Control and Cooperative-adaptive Cruise Control.
- By 2016, Audi plans to market vehicles that can autonomously steer, accelerate and brake at lower speeds, such as in traffic jams.
- By 2016, Mercedes plans to introduce “Autobahn Pilot” aka Highway Pilot, the system allow hands-free highway driving with autonomous overtaking of other vehicles.
- By 2016, Mobileye expects to release hands-free driving technology for highways.
- In 2016 (2017 model year), GM plans to offer a “super cruise” feature on select Cadillac models, with autonomous lane keeping, speed control, and brake control, so that parts of trips can be made without touching the wheel or pedals.
- By early 2017, the US Department of Transportation hopes to publish a rule mandating vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication by an as-yet unspecified deadline. GM says that by the 2017 model year, the Cadillac CTS will be V2V equipped.
- Between 2017 to 2020, Google believes its Level 4 self-driving cars will be available to the public.
- By 2018, Mobileye expects autonomous capabilities for country roads and city traffic.
- By 2018, Nissan anticipates to have a feature that can allow the vehicle manoeuver its way on multi-lane highways.
- By 2019 or 2020, Tesla expects that “true autonomous driving” where passengers can “get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” will be achieved.
- By 2020, Volvo envisages having cars in which passengers would be immune from injuries. Volvo also claim vehicles will effectively be “crash free.” 
- By 2020, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan, BMW and Renault all expect to sell vehicles that can drive themselves at least part of the time.
- By 2024, Jaguar expects to release an autonomous car.
- By 2025, Daimler and Ford expect autonomous vehicles on the market.
- By 2025, most new GM vehicles will have automated driving functions as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.
- By 2035, IHS Automotive report says will be the year most self-driving vehicles will be operated completely independent from a human occupant’s control.
Dec 10, 2012: BoingBoing:
open source hardware-based drone autonomously delivers Mexican food
The good folks at Darwin Aerospace have figured out how to use drones to parachute burritos directly onto your property. They await pending FAA reforms before they can go into business
Apr 18, 2013: The Car Connection:
According to AutoNews, most of the experts on that panel — including representatives from Honda, Nissan, and the University of Michigan — agree that the technology to create self-driving vehicles already exists.
We would agree. Many of the systems crucial to autonomous vehicles — systems like brake-assist, lane-assist, and adaptive cruise control — can be found on many of today’s cars. Vehicle-to-vehicle technology isn’t available just yet, but it’s evolving rapidly — and Google’s autonomous car has done just fine without it anyway.
What’s lacking is public trust, and frankly, that’s unlikely to exist until everyday consumers (a) become aware of autonomous vehicles and (b) become convinced of their reliability”
May 3, 2013: AutoWeek:
On the consumer-acceptance front, Continental plans to introduce automated systems gradually, with fully autonomous driving by around 2025
Jul 17, 2013: Gizmodo:
Lettuce Gaze Upon the Future of Agriculture
The Lettuce Bot is a tractor-towed device that images a row of plants as it rolls past and compares the visual data against a million-point database of other pictures of lettuce (which must have been super exciting to compile) using a custom designed computer-vision algorithm. It’s reportedly 98 percent accurate
Nov 13, 2013: Gizmodo
These Autonomous Dump Trucks Let Mines Operate Around the Clock
At Suncor Energy’s open pit Steepbank mine north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, at least one automated heavy hauler—similar to the unit Komatsu sells below—has already begun operating as part of a limited test. Instead of a driver, the massive truck relies on an array of wireless networks, laser rangefinders and GPS tracking to stay on course.