The last edition of the Web Summit in Lisbon gathered a lot of speakers around the next breakthrough in the automotive industry: autonomous cars. Automakers reminded us their ambitions: Carlos Ghosn announced autonomous drive in cities in 2020 for Renault/Nissan, BMW bets on 2021. Volvo talked about their successful self-driving truck in a mine. Autonomous driving & connected cars drive a lot of excitation in the automotive industry, but where are we truly in this golden rush ?
First of all, let’s be clear on what “autonomous” means !
The transition implies different stages: from 0 to 5.
Level 0 means no automation.
Level 1 means there is a driver assistance.
Level 2 means there is a partial automation. The best example is the current Tesla autopilot mode.
Level 3 refers to conditional automation. No company has reached this level on the market yet. It refers to 2020 Renault Nissan objective for instance.
Level 4 means high automation.
Level 5 means full automation and no more human control/
Let’s keep in mind that starting level 3, the automated driving system becomes able to monitor the driving environment. Today, we are at level 2. Automakers ambitions for 2020 are to reach level 3.
This golden rush involves automakers & tech companies
The automotive industry is currently moving fast and is driven by newcomers such as technology giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple, the electric vehicle specialist Tesla, and car-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft. Why? Because software is every-thing when you talk about autonomous driving.
These companies have the know-how to develop software systems that are able to provide autonomous cars – whereas auto makers are more limited. But auto makers are the only ones to provide state of the art vehicles & they have a strong capacity of production & distribution.
This complementarity is the reason why auto makers & tech companies are working hand in hand for this bright future. For instance, Uber signed an agreement with Volvo for self-driving technologies & Renault-Nissan announced in September an agreement with Microsoft to develop connected car technologies.
These partnerships sound really exciting, but some important questions remained without any answer in Lisbon : who will benefit the most from these agreements ? Who will control the data collected ? Governance issues will be a great challenge to solve soon.
3 main roadblocks to autonomous driving
Look at Uber & its first self-driving fleet in Pittsburgh, look at self-driving taxis in Singapore…: autonomous driving is already happening. However, let’s be honest : the full transition will take some time.
Here are the main roadblocks :
1) Technology is not ready yet.
Tech companies are moving fast to improve software but technology is still far from being ready according to specialists from WebSummit such as George Arison, CEO of Shift. The easiest way to explain it is by doing a comparison with the smartphone industry. It took 20 years to move from a single purpose device to a smartphone. Now we are talking about having a smart car with way more possibilities…it is way more challenging.
2) Regulation is key
In order to authorize autonomous cars on our roads, governments need to establish rules. Once again, it will take time to agree on regulations for those new vehicles as it raises a lot of ethical issues. No clear step forward has been done yet and, at the Summit, this question remained a mystery in the mouth of both automotive specialists and government representatives.
3) Customer’s trust is crucial
Will customers rely on this new technology? It will surely take some time. Even if some surveys are very positive – Volvo predicted that the number of crashes will drop by 80% by 2035 – brands will have to strongly reassure customers. Autonomous cars are not only about tech & law, it is also about humans.
Autonomous driving generates a lot of passions but also a lot of pending questions… that are far from being resolved. Tech savvy Web Summit audience was quite enthusiast about embracing this new way of transportation in the near future. But some challenges need to be overcome & could easily postpone this shining future : most pessimistic experts think it will take 30 years for autonomous cars to be a reality. One thing is sure, automotive industry future is going to be exciting and we are going to witness the transition from a model of transport to a connected mobile space.