The Future of Self-Driving Cars

An Evolving Technology

One intriguing thing about technology is that a concept can seem wildly futuristic and very close to reality all at the same time. A society driven entirely by self-driving vehicles (SDV) still seems like a sci-fi movie, but many of today’s top automakers promise to have fully self-driving vehicles on the market by 2020. We’re not all the way there, but the building blocks are in place to make self-driving cars a reality.

Research from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ aptly categorizes the stages of the self-driving vehicle to point out how far we’ve come and where we want to go. In our current state, level two, pieces of technology give the car self-driving capabilities, but not fully self-driving operation.

Where We’re Headed

Vehicle technology at CES 2017

The automotive landscape at CES 2017 was filled with inventive and exhilarating concept cars that stretched the imagination on the features and capabilities of self-driving cars.

The visual of the concept cars was enticing, but the integrated technology supporting them really helped spotlight the possibilities. Augmented reality (AR) was featured heavily, and its implementation brought together all of the building blocks discussed in previous sections: GPS, sensors, AI and connectivity.

Companies including Visteon are using the collection of data from sensors and mapping tools to warn and advise drivers through an advanced dashboard within their line of sight. In the company’s “head-up display,” the windshield dashboard provides color-coded imagery that highlights oncoming vehicles and pedestrians, and identifies potential dangers.

A 2016 study from CTA reported that almost two-thirds of drivers want to replace their cars with completely self-driving vehicles. But what about those that might have a hard time handing over the wheel? Head-up displays can help to ease the transition from the driver having full control to the car steering the way.

By offering a visual representation of the data that it’s interpreting, the car not only assists the driver, but gives them the confidence that it knows what it’s doing. It may seem similar to having a student driver say aloud what they’re seeing and doing their first time on the road. What can we say? Trust is earned. Alexander Mankowsky, the futurist at Daimler, calls this informed trust. In order to feel confident that the car is capable of driving on its own, “The car should show inside what it’s sensing outside, so you can develop a familiarity with the automatic function.” 

Our Largest Personalized Device

The biggest benefit self-driving cars deliver is safety, but that’s not to say we aren’t also looking forward to the more glamorous benefits they might offer. Automakers and technology companies have been tasked not only with making a self-driving car work, but rethinking what an in-vehicle experience could be.

For example, we just discussed the value of presenting information on a windshield display – but what happens when details about the road no longer need to be seen? Manuela Papadopel, director of business development and communications at Elektrobit, predicts that once the trust is gained and the responsibility transitioned, the windshield could function as a personalized display for videoconferencing and other productivity-oriented tasks.

If your vision for commuting is a more relaxed experience, Volvo’s Concept 26 has created an interior with fully reclining seats and a large screen. With the ability to switch between that and two additional seat settings, Volvo is creating an experience that allows the driver to totally customize their time spent in the car.

Accepting and Arranging for Innovation

Self-driving cars are the future, and the answer to saving the millions of lives lost in crashes caused by driver error. Every year we are seeing significant steps forward in the technology needed to make our vehicles fully self-driving, but innovation usually comes with some disruption.

Policy rules and regulations, infrastructure changes and consumer sentiment are all external factors that need to keep up with the speed of innovation in order to make self-driving cars a success.

Although widespread shifts in the norm can be difficult to achieve, the greater goal in changing the future of transportation is to make our roads and our passengers safer than ever. As U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx wrote, self-driving cars possess “the potential to uproot personal mobility as we know it” and “have become the archetype of our future transportation.”

Let’s do everything we can to enable innovation that creates a safer future for us all.