Could this be a problem in the very near future?
The dream the public is being sold is that in just a few years we will all be sitting in cars, such as the upcoming Tesla Model Y, with no steering wheels that drive us to and from our destinations with no driver input other than a destination. There will be no more crashes, no more pedestrian fatalities, no more traffic jams, no more hunting for parking spaces, and we'll use all that to get more things done in a day. Life will be easy as we drink our coffee and watch Netflix on the way to work, and nobody need ever get a traffic ticket again.
The reality is that a lot of new and old companies have put their eggs in that basket and, according to a report from Automotive News, the portfolio director of safety domain control units for the German parts supplier ZF, Farid Khairallah, is publicly saying that the reality of that dream may be out of reach. ZF is a company famous for supplying transmissions to many automakers but has also put a lot of money into self-driving cars.
At the 2019 CAR Management Briefing Seminars, Khairallah told his audience: "The perception in the industry was, a couple of years ago, that it is paved with gold. But now the industry is ... looking at it from a more sober, practical point of view. It's not that easy to go there."
The bottom line is that Level 5 autonomy is the aim. Meaning, there is no input from the driver needed whatsoever or a need for pedals or a steering wheel. However, Khairallah points out that Level 2, where the vehicle can steer and stop itself but requires a driver to be present to take control, is the level most automakers are comfortable with.
The problem gets exponentially more complicated the closer the systems get to 100% autonomy, and complicated means expensive. For an autonomous vehicle to be 100% safe 100% of the time, the computer power required to assess information and process bank of cameras, radars, and lidars at the speed necessary is immense. Then Khairallah points out that those systems need cooling systems as well, and support systems crank the cost even more.
"The whole industry is rethinking their strategies and what they want to do with this," Khairallah said.
We may not find ourselves riding around in autonomous vehicles in our lifetimes, but that doesn't mean it won't be a reality one day. It's not all bad news though. So far we've seen some huge benefits from Level 2 development such as automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist become standard features for many car models.