Experts explain that even though many new vehicles feature technology that assists us with driving, fully self-driving cars are not available for purchase. This refers to transport, perhaps without even a steering wheel, that can safely navigate public roads entirely by themselves.
But, considering the amount of new technology that is being developed, how much longer will we have to wait?
Understanding just how far we have come with self-driving technology can be a bit tricky. To help define how sophisticated the automated technology actually is, the Society of Automotive Engineers classifies these systems using five levels.
Level 1 is driver assistance. In this level, the vehicle can control steering or braking, however not both simultaneously.
Level 2 is partial automation. This is where the car can assist with both steering and braking simultaneously. However, the driver's attention is required on the road at all times.
Level 3 is conditional automation. In this level, certain circumstances allow the car to handle most aspects of driving. The driver also can temporarily take their eyes off the road.
Level 4 is high automation. In this level, considering the right conditions, the car can take full control, giving the driver a chance to focus on other tasks.
And Level 5 is full automation. In this hypothetical situation, the car drives you, and there isn't even a steering wheel.
Most experts have agreed that current technology is between Levels 2 and 3.
Vehicle manufacturers are trying to perfect the technology required for them, but several other factors stand in the way. These include poor road infrastructure, the communication systems needed to connect these cars with one another, and the supplementary traffic laws required to regulate these vehicles.
Even though many are talking about a self-driving car, those vehicles are nowhere near full autonomy. The general consensus was that, in around a decade, these vehicles will only be starting to populate our roads.
The rules needed to keep autonomous cars safe on the roads are complex. However, Meridian Mobility considers everything, from teaching vehicles about the highway code right through to a reassuring of the public about how safe these vehicles are. The company also takes into consideration how autonomous cars might make decisions that go against the rules.
According to Bryan Reimer; "There's an incredible amount of confusion in the general public around the context of self-driving. In our survey data here, about 23% of respondents believe that a self-driving vehicle is available for purchase today. And a lot of that has to do with statements by Elon Musk and others talking about the driverless capabilities and self-driving capabilities of vehicles. These are systems that are meant to assist the driver under the supervision of a driver. So, while many individuals out there are really working on the development of self-reliant automation, in essence, a robot that's fully capable of making its own decisions in today's infrastructure, the reality is, today's infrastructure is not well equipped for autonomy. In essence, potholes, poor lane markings, and all the other crumbling aspects of our nation's infrastructure aren't going to support high-tech well."
To flawlessly interact with the world around them, vehicles need to be wirelessly connected with that traffic infrastructure, as well as one another.
For a society to transition to self-driving cars, the Governments will have important decisions to make.
Experts explain that, during the beginning stages, they'll have to define what weather conditions are appropriate for vehicles to be operating fully autonomously. This is because many of the car systems can be disrupted by rain and snow.
One solution for these cars to safely navigate public roads amongst traditionally-driven vehicles would be to build designated lanes. This would be similar to the high occupancy vehicles found on highways, and bus lanes found in certain cities.
"Carmakers and tech companies are very heavily focused on the context of driverless technologies. Now, I'm not saying that that's not the future. It is the future. But, as many have begun to admit publicly, that future is further away than anybody has realistically considered, to date. We as humans are really good at predicting the future, we're not so good at the timelines. And the timeline to driverless technology changing how I live and move is probably in the order of several decades, if not further away," Reimer said.