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When will we start seeing self-driving cars?

 

The car repair business is faced with a contradiction: Alarm bells ring when the number of car crashes decline – because fewer crashes mean less business. That’s why they need to keep an eye on developments involving “autonomous cars”. Because according to most experts use of these vehicles will lead to a reduction in the number of accidents. So the question for a lot of repair shops is: When will autonomous cars start hitting the road?

Prototype for a self-driving car at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 2018.

Up to now, experts have been estimating that it would be at least 2025 before autonomous cars went on the market. But at the 2018 CES electronics trade fair in Las Vegas VW announced that it wants to put a self-driving vehicle on the market in 2021. BMW also aims to introduce a production-ready model – one without a steering wheel or pedals. As early as 2019, General Motors wants to put robot taxis on the roads, and so do Daimler and Renault. What’s behind the rush? The robot taxi business alone, so say industry insiders, has a potential volume of several hundred billion euros.

Volvo aims to supply the ride-sharing service Uber thousands of SUVs by 2021 – more than 20,000 of these supposedly will be self-driving. In the UK, where Jaguar and Land Rover are currently testing self-driving cars, the finance ministry made the following proposal late last year: Starting in the coming year vehicles will start being tested on British roadways that will not be monitored by human beings, either on board or externally.

Scarcely three years old and already practically a classic: the self-driving prototype that Mercedes presented at the Autosalon Genf in 2016.

Many are surprised to see established auto makers hustle to bring out self-driving cars. Because it looked as though companies like Tesla, Apple or Google affiliate Waymo were already far ahead in terms of development. And yet they weren’t immune to setbacks. At industry star Tesla, several autonomous car crashes and massive production problems have left a dent in the paint. Apple has had next to nothing to say on the topic recently. And provider Waymo, the first to put driverless cars on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, is in the middle of a legal battle over alleged technology theft, which could last a while yet. Bottom Line: The weaknesses of these market newbies has allowed established manufacturers to move up to within striking distance.

On the other hand: Facing many still unresolved technical problems, some of the announced goals and schedules are starting to look rather ambitious. Especially given the range of legal and ethical issues that still need to be dealt with: Who is liable for an accident involving two autonomous vehicles? How does driving software resolve the sticky question of which to hit: a pram or a cyclist? Questions like this could postpone the triumphal advancement of autonomous driving for the time being.

The five levels of autonomous driving
Level 0 The driver does everything himself. The vehicle does nothing on its own accord and/or does not have the technical means of doing so.
Level 1: Assisted Driving The vehicle assists the driver via assistive systems, like blind-spot alarms, lane keeping assist or uphill start assist.
Level 2: Partially Automated Driving The car can take over some tasks from the driver, for example parking, stop-and-go in congested traffic. This is the current state of affairs for many manufacturers.
Level 3: Advanced Automated Driving The vehicle can signal on its own, change lanes or adjust speed to the surrounding traffic. The autopilot can still request that the driver resumes control.
Level 4: Fully Automated Driving The computer takes over all functions relating to driving and only relinquishes control when confronted with a situation it cannot handle.
Level 5: Autonomous Driving The vehicle’s system simply requires that a destination be entered and permission is given to start. The vehicle travels to the destination entirely automatically.


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