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10 Years, 10 Milestones for Driverless Cars

By the mid-2020s, there’s a very real chance that “driving a car” will mean something much different than it does today.

Driverless cars are real and they are coming. Believe it or not, want them or not, automakers and technology firms are investing in a future wherein computers, not humans, are controlling vehicles. Over the last 18 months momentum for connected, driverless cars has shifted into high gear.  

Soon, automakers will start selling vehicles that are capable of at least partial autonomy. And shortly thereafter – if certain legislative, regulatory and infrastructure challenges are met – millions of cars on the road will be driving themselves. Here’s a look at 10 expected developments that will revolutionize what it means to get behind the wheel.

2015: Tesla Autopilot



Autopilot combines a forward looking camera, radar, and 360 degree sonar sensors with real time traffic updates to automatically drive Model S on the open road and in dense stop and go traffic. Changing lanes becomes as simple as a tap of the turn signal. When you arrive at your destination, Model S will both detect a parking spot and automatically park itself. Standard equipment safety features are constantly monitoring stop signs, traffic signals and pedestrians, as well as for unintentional lane changes.

Source: Tesla Motors

2015: Intelligent Transportation Systems

This year, two big undertakings will help further research and development of connected and autonomous cars. In Michigan, the state department of transportation and the University of Michigan are teaming up to open M City, a 32-acre campus designed for testing connected and autonomous vehicle systems. Contra Costa County, Calif., meanwhile, is building the country’s largest and most comprehensive connected and autonomous vehicle testbed at 5,000 acres. The country transportation authority is also in the midst of rolling out its I-80 Smart Corridor Project, one of the most sophisticated intelligent transportation systems in the state.

2017: GM Super Cruise



Super Cruise, the working name for GM’s automated driving technology, will offer customers a new type of driving experience that includes hands-off lane following, braking and speed control in certain highway driving conditions. The system is designed to increase the comfort of an attentive driver on freeways, both in bumper-to-bumper traffic and on long road trips.

Source: General Motors

2017: Volvo Drive Me

In February, Volvo unveiled the details of its planned Drive Me pilot program. Beginning in 2017, Volvo will make up to 100 driverless cars available to residents of Gothenburg, Sweden – the company’s hometown. Volvo, an automaker with a reputation for safety, hopes to use driverless technology to eliminate all serious injuries and fatalities among drivers of Volvo vehicles from 2020 onward.  

2018: Audi Piloted Driving



The A7 piloted driving concept utilizes the latest technologically advanced systems developed by Audi. The concept relieves the driver of driving duties from 0 to 70 mph. The car can initiate lane changes and passing maneuvers. In addition, the A7 piloted driving concept accelerates and brakes independently. Before initiating a lane change to the left or the right, the vehicle adapts its speed to surrounding vehicles. If the speed and distance calculation is deemed safe, the vehicle initiates the lane change with precision and in a timely manner.


2020: Google Self-Driving Car

Perhaps the most well-known autonomous vehicle project, the Google Car is expected to be on streets by 2020. According to the Google Blog, the company is now exploring what fully self-driving vehicles would look like by building some prototypes; they’ll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them. Software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic—we want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible—but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that's an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.

Source: Google Blog

2020: Nissan Autonomous Drive

With more than 90 percent of all traffic accidents caused by human error, Nissan's Autonomous Drive has, according to the company, been developed to help realize an “accident-free society" by eliminating human error during driving. Autonomous Drive can be particularly effective on city streets, where the chances of being involved in an accident are 10 times higher than on highways. With Autonomous Drive, not only would the number of accidents decrease, it would also allow drivers who have trouble navigating through narrow lanes and intersections a safe and sure way to reach their destinations. The technology could also greatly benefit elderly people and those with disabilities who otherwise could not drive by themselves.


2020: Apple iCar



Rumors about a secretive autonomous vehicle project underway in Cupertino grabbed top billing online for a few days last month. First reported by the Wall Street Journal, it seems Apple is working on an electric, autonomous vehicle of its own, if details about the so-called Titan Project prove true. If so, then Apple looks to be joining the majority of driverless car makers by targeting a 2020 release date.

2025: Mercedes-Benz Future Truck



In order to operate with precision, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 has to know where it is and what is happening around it at all times. This is partly ensured by extensive technology with numerous optical sensors, and partly by wirelessly exchanging data with other road users and traffic infrastructure. The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 “views” the road with an optical arsenal. Signals from the camera and other sensors are combined, resulting in a sophisticated image of the truck’s environment in real time.


2025: Driverless Economy



Ride-sharing service Uber recently partnered with Carnegie Melon University (which has a lot of history developing driverless cars) to study and research driverless car technology, which many believe may lead to a network of on-demand, driverless taxis.  Some, such as those interviewed in this Forbes piece, don’t believe such a driverless car service will take off. Others, however, see fleets of Uber autonomous vehicles wiping out millions of jobs while simultaneously radically transforming the economy for the better.