Fully autonomous cars won't appear until after 2030?

The first fully autonomous car that can completely perform all driving related tasks, and potentially replace private car ownership, will probably not appear until after 2030, said Continental’s head of self-driving car projects, Andree Hohm.

At the company’s Tech Show in Hanover recently, Hohm told Automotive News: “People always ask me when driverless vehicles will be on the road, and I tell them the answer is ‘today.’ If you have a very specific application area, for example like a private road, and want to travel at low velocity, you can buy such a vehicle.”

The initial focus for driverless mobility was for highway use, but Hohm said the priorities have shifted due to the difficulties involved in high-speed travelling, especially when trying to bring a speeding vehicle down to a safe stop in case of a malfunction. He added the consensus feeling at Continental is that low-speed, urban settings will be the starting point for autonomous driving.

Urban situations may be more complex than highways, he said, “but they have one key advantage: Slower speeds give you more opportunities when systems fail or you get erroneous readings from sensors.”

Volkswagen has already begun testing Level 4 automation with this prototype in Hamburg

Continental is active in many areas of autonomous driving technology. Currently, it is working to produce parts that are suitable for use in robo-taxis, and some of its systems include the ability to generate a 360-degree image from a combination of data from radar, lidar and cameras to provide redundancy.

“We at Continental consider driverless mobility to be very promising. It will have a significant share of the mobility of the future,” Hohm said. In fact, Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart recently said that the overall software market alone for autonomous vehicles was expected to grow from $314 billion (RM1.29 trillion) to $1.35 trillion (RM5.55 trillion) by 2030.

However, it does come with some challenges, with the three biggest ones being technology, regulatory approval, and consumer acceptance. Technologically, the challenge is to use a combination of sensors (radar, lidar and cameras) to create a safe environment. “This foundation has to be very solid. You have to cover all situations because there’s no driver as a fallback option,” Hohm noted.

One of Continental’s solutions to that is to incorporate external sensors on street signs and roadways, thus creating smart or connected streets. For example, “smart intersection” will be able to detect vehicular breakdowns or accidents, sometimes even erratic pedestrians even before a self-driving car approaches the scene. This however, can be very costly to implement on a large scale, at least for the time being.

On regulations, the main problem is a lack of a unified framework for testing and implementation of autonomous vehicles, Hohm explained. “Lots of pilot projects are pushing forward, but in a very heterogeneous way. This is a very challenging scenario, because if we’re going to invest a lot of money we have to be sure that the solutions we create fit a wide variety of countries.”

Last but not least, many consumers are skeptical about driverless cars, and studies have found that worries are increasing, at least in Germany and in the US, although Chinese respondents are becoming more receptive of the technology.

“It still sounds a little bit creepy, if you think about it – going into a car where there is no one at the steering wheel,” he said. “This is for us a clear signal that we have to introduce those functionalities step by step. We need to clearly show what we are introducing. We need to involve people in pilot projects, so they can actually experience how exciting the technology is,” Hohm added.

To understand the levels of autonomous driving and the technicalities involved in getting them to work, you may read our story which pored over Level 0 to Level 5 automation. Now, over to you – how confident would you be to sit in a self-driving car with no driver?

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