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Experts Say Self-Driving Cars Still Far Off

Manual Driving Still Current Norm

Many automobile industry insiders claim “fully autonomous” self-driving technology is largely exaggerated, and while these claims are not false, the terms “self-driving” and “autonomous vehicle” are misused. Ford Motor Co., Volvo Car Corp., and Lyft Inc. say they will produce fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. Uber Technologies Inc. is offering Pittsburgh residents rides in autonomous Ford Fusions, and Tesla Motors Inc. states their technology will be ready in the next 24 months. However, experts say we’ll likely not have this by 2021, and the kind of technology where one can sleep in a car after entering in a destination is possibly decades away from happening.

“The technology just isn’t there…these statements are aspiration, they’re not really reality,” says Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Duke University professor of mechanical engineering Mary Cummings also says, “We’re a good 15 to 20 years out from that.” In a nutshell, this means this type of technology is about how you define “self-driving” and “autonomous.”

Ford claims it will release a self-driving car by 2021, but when asked to explain the details about this claim, a spokesman said that car will be able to self-drive in major cities where extremely detailed 3-D street maps are available and only in certain portions. Additionally, Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said its vehicles will be limited to a certain geographic area and will only go 25 miles an hour max speed. Volvo and Mobileye NV will institute similar limits.

Google has the most experience with self-driving technology, but it has not yet released a date for its vehicles. Tesla will most accurately represent what most define as “self-driving,” with cars that can maintain a safe following distance, stop in an emergency, and change lanes. These are the type of vehicles that will not require drivers, but they will only be able to function in cities with well-mapped routes.

“The ingredients exist—now, it is a matter of engineering,” said Mobileye chief technology officer Amnon Shashua. Mr. Shashua says perfecting these systems does not require large breakthroughs but smaller improvements in the software. Presently, the main issues have been with controlling and sensing the way humans are able to drive on the road, since utilizing technology to drive like humans is tricky.

Self-driving technology is coming and will eventually save many lives when it becomes part of every vehicle, but drivers should not expect this by 2021.

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