There is a problem with the autonomous car: no one can agree on what it is. This argument was highlighted earlier in the year when Elon Musk casually stated that a Tesla could drive itself across the US in 24 to 36 months.
It was quite a scene-stealing act. Although Tesla was not present at the Geneva show, Musk’s prediction ensured that every senior executive in attendance would be asked questions about self-driving vehicles.
It is important to ask yourself at what point a car becomes truly autonomous. It is when the car can operate without human intervention or when it is capable of taking control of itself. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan CEO, was critical of Musk’s announcement. He wanted to defend his company’s leadership position in self-driving cars.
He said, “If it’s about being autonomous on one highway lane or possibly changing lanes, then 2016 or 2017 is the right year.” “But autonomous driving in cities with crossroads or the car making difficult decisions, I don’t believe it will be ready before 2020.
This date coincides perfectly with Nissan’s earlier prediction about when its first self-driving car will be released. Volkswagen executives echoed his position, with Scott Keogh (President of Audi of America) telling journalists that the company believes click-and-go autonomy will be further away.
Keogh stated that if the definition of leaving your home is that you press a button, the car will drive me anywhere you want, without any hands or control; it won’t happen for long. “From my perspective, it’s been 10+ years.”
Along with legislative changes that allow cars to drive themselves, major infrastructure upgrades will likely be required to enable true autonomy. Road markings must be maintained at an agreed standard and protocols created between different systems.
Keogh said that the American four-way stop junction is one of the most difficult problems Audi engineers have had to deal with. He said that the system might try to follow the law by holding at a stop sign as it says. This could lead to long waits while everyone is edging in.
But if and when autonomy is achieved, it will greatly expand access to personal transport. Ghosn, predictably, will be keen to promote enhanced mobility. Ghosn stated that many people give up driving to be able to drive again. “This technology will allow you to drive until your heart stops.” No matter your handicap or impairment, you will be able to drive regardless of your handicap.