2021: An Autonomous Odyssey

By David Amodeo

Digital apps. Ride sharing. Car sharing. Voice Recognition. Over-the-air updates. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Autonomous vehicles. 

If you were to read any automotive, technology or business publication on any given day, chances are good you’ll find a headline addressing one of these topics. What’s going on here, and why are the media so focused on these topics?

What’s going on is a race to transform the future of automotive transportation. Like Stanley Kubrick's seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s the story of a future of discovery, evolution, triumph and failure, and humankind’s creation and interaction with artificial intelligence.

It’s an automotive future that calls into question the need for vehicle ownership at all; a future in which vehicles can be shared, and where vehicles don’t necessarily require drivers. It’s a future where consumers can summon a self-driving vehicle from their smartphone or other digital device (such as a smart speaker that accepts voice commands), and then can be chauffeured to work, school or their favorite restaurant.

And for those who prefer to stay in but want something other than a “home-cooked meal”? How about directing an autonomous vehicle to go get the carry-out dinner at that trendy restaurant and bring it home? In some markets, Uber already offers a service where Uber drivers pick up food and deliver it.

 

Industry experts agree that it will likely take at least five years—around 2021—before the first mass market autonomous vehicles are ready for the road. A lot of work still must be done to refine autonomous vehicle technologies like cameras, radar, artificial intelligence, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and more, as well as building the infrastructure to support such vehicles. 

The development work to get us to “2021: An Autonomous Odyssey” is in full stride. Tesla, for example, has already made its semi-autonomous Autopilot software available in some vehicles, and continues to refine it. Uber is testing self-driving vehicles in various cities. Car sharing services—like ZipCar, Car2Go, and Maven—are getting involved too, providing vehicles for short-term use, while learning about  consumer transportation trends and working on their own autonomous technology strategies.  Major auto manufacturers are involved too, with Cadillac just announcing their automated driving technology will be an option on cars starting this fall. 

Until autonomous vehicles become commonplace—which is decades away—auto and non-automotive companies continue to make strides in making that future vision a reality. And consumers are taking notice. For example, J.D. Power research shows that:

  • Nearly half (47%) of consumers think fully autonomous vehicles will be available by 2025, and of these, 20% think they fully autonomous vehicles will be ready by 2020. 
  • Challenges exist: consumers are becoming more skeptical of self-driving technology, with more than half (61%) of consumers who say they “definitely would not” trust a self-driving vehicle also say they will not even ride in one. 
  • Some 26% of consumers would be willing to give up owning a personal vehicle if an effective alternative transport option (vehicle sharing) was available at a reasonable cost.

Clearly, the road to creating an autonomous future is challenging. While the journey will occasionally involve many starts and stops, dips and turns, it’ll be an exciting odyssey along the way. And as HAL 9000 might say, all we can do is put ourselves to our fullest possible use, which is what any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

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David Amodeo is senior manager for automotive quality at J.D. Power. He looks forward to the day when he can sit behind the wheel—or some control stick—and let his car fight with bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

The information contained herein has been obtained by J.D. Power from sources believed to be reliable. However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our sources, J.D. Power does not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from use of such information. 

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