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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Autonomous Driving innovation: ‘Slower than Expected’

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The much-anticipated autonomous car revolution is making significant progress, as evidenced by the multitude of displays at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Despite the negative headlines surrounding the industry, believers argue that companies are deploying robotaxis in larger numbers and expanding to more cities.

While the advancement may be slower than anticipated a few years ago, there are notable improvements in crucial technologies showcased at CES.

One of the primary focuses in the autonomous car industry is safety. CES features a wide array of innovations in areas such as 3D vision, night vision, driver fatigue detectors, and hand-on-wheel detection. Companies, both established and start-ups, are emphasizing the role of technology in saving lives by enhancing road safety. Christophe Perillat, the head of the French Valeo group, predicts that by 2030, 90 percent of vehicles produced worldwide will be equipped with driver assistance systems, with a significant portion falling into the level 2 and 2+ categories, and a few million reaching level 3 or 4 automation.

However, achieving level 5 automation, which is equivalent to a human driver, appears to be a distant goal. S&P Global Mobility, in a recent study, asserts that consumers are unlikely to be able to purchase fully self-driving cars without the need for driver intervention by 2035. Nevertheless, the proliferation of automated driver assistance systems that compensate for driver inattention or error is expected to help reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also playing an increasingly prominent role in the autonomous vehicle sector. By analyzing facial features and eye movements, AI can detect driver alertness and enhance safety measures. Accenture’s Adam Burden highlights the potential of AI in influencing driver safety positively.

Currently, autonomous vehicles tend to garner attention primarily when accidents occur. Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, suspended its operations indefinitely following several accidents and the suspension of its permits in California. Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, classified as level 2 automation, has faced criticism for misleading drivers into believing their cars can drive themselves, resulting in accidents. The Washington Post reported that, according to data from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla’s “Autopilot” mode was involved in 736 accidents and seventeen deaths in the US since 2019. However, a recent study by reinsurer Swiss Re, based on Google’s Waymo One driverless taxis, suggests that autonomous vehicles are significantly safer for other road users compared to human drivers.

The autonomous vehicle sector is currently divided into two categories: professional users, such as fleets of robotaxis and shuttles, and private users with less automation. This division is driven by safety and regulatory considerations, as well as cost. Level 4 vehicles, which offer higher automation, come with an additional cost of $10,000. However, for fleets that can operate continuously throughout the year, this extra expense is quickly recovered.

McKinsey’s Kersten Heineke predicts that hundreds of thousands of robotaxis will be on the road within the next three to five years, with China leading the way. The McKinsey Center for Future Mobility estimates that autonomous driving could generate between $300 and $400 billion worldwide by 2035.

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