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Autonomous Driving: Are We Nearly There Yet?

by Ian Riches | Jul 12, 2013

There is currently huge interest in the field of "autonomous vehicles", with there now looking a realistic prospect that some form if self-driving car could be on the road within the next 15 years or so.  The "Google Car" is gaining an ever-growing number of column-inches in the press, and OEMs (e.g. Audi and BMW) and suppliers (e.g. Continental) are already positioning themselves in this space.  There is also change at the software level, with a third-party supplier, Elektrobit, recently announced as Daimler's solutions-provider for advanced safety products.

The field of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) is one of the fastest growing in automotive electronics, with radar, lidar and camera-based systems now appearing on mainstream, moderately-priced vehicles.

The automotive industry, although largely more measured than that of consumer electronics, is still not immune to hype cycles.  It is thus definitely worth having a realistic look at how autonomous vehicles may emerge onto our streets, and what some of the obstacles that remain are.

Our current forecast modelling only goes out to 2020, and going out to 2025 and beyond is more in the realm of future-gazing than modelling.

Having said that, we can draw some useful data points and thus projections from our current model.  Looking at the latest forecast data, the percentage of light vehicles worldwide fitted with all of autonomous cruise control, lane departure warning and blindspot monitoring was less than 1% in 2010 and is projected at around 5% in 2015, rising to 9% in 2020.

A simple linear projection of this trend puts the percentage of vehicles with all three of these technologies (and thus the prospect of being partially/fully autonomous) at around 13% in 2025 and 18% in 2030.  This is likely to be an underestimate, as we would expect growth to pick up as technologies get cheaper and more legislation is enacted mandating a certain level of driver support.

However, there’s a big difference between a car with multiple advanced safety technologies and an autonomous vehicle!  Thus, my gut feel at present is that these percentages are much, much more likely to be upper bounds on the market for autonomous vehicles than lower bounds.  A lot will depend upon the following factors:

  1. Early market experiences:  A high-profile accident (or worse, series of accidents) in the early stages of introduction could stop the market in its tracks
  2. Government support: The legislative framework for autonomous vehicles varies widely across the globe, and is not always as supportive as the industry would like.
  3. Supporting technologies: V2V and V2X will likely have a large role to play in any forthcoming autonomous vehicles, and despite many years of work, these types of solutions are typically highly fragmented, with differing approaches and technologies in different market places
  4. True consumer demand: I’m not convinced that current surveys are getting to the heart of consumer wishes for autonomous driving.  I suspect that some equate autonomous driving with having an electronic chauffeur – with the inference being that they can truly ignore the driving task, and get on with work/play/sleep (perhaps even sitting in the rear seat) while being whisked to their destination.  I’m not seeing that  being the product on offer in 2025.  The autonomous car in that timeframe is much more likely to be like a current Boeing or Airbus.  They have highly automated capabilities – but the pilot/driver must always remain in post and ready to take control.  I do wonder where they lawyers will find all the space to put their warning stickers!

 

Taking all of the above into account, my current assessment is that we’re are likely to see around 15-20% of cars globally in the 2025 to 2030 timeframe that are highly automated – that is they can offer significant support to drivers in multiple different driving situations.  However, the number that are truly autonomous – that is you can sit in your drive and program it to take you directly to the movie theatre, airport or vacation destination will be more in the low single figure percentages.  These products will likely only really emerge from 2025 onwards, and even then perhaps only initially offer full autonomous driving in certain situations – such as highway driving - or in areas with a certain degree of V2X support.

We’re certainly on a journey towards the autonomous car.  However, we’ll get there in small bite-size chunks.  We’re at stage one at the moment, with individual systems offering support in individual driving situations (highways, parking, lane-keeping).  We’ve been in this stage for the best part of 20 years, since the introduction of autonomous cruise control in the mid-1990s.  We’re now moving into stage 2, where these systems become linked together and integrated to fill in some of the gaps between the scenarios in which the car can support the driving task.  I see this stage as dominating from now until at least 2025.

It’s at that point and beyond that true autonomous driving may emerge.

A full list of Strategy Analytics ADAS reports can be accessed by clicking here.

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