Autonomous Driving -  Shifting to Overdrive in 2018

Asokan Ashok

Nov 17, 2017
Autonomous Driving

Autonomous driving once thought of as a thing of the future and sci-fi movies, is believed to become a reality soon. Self-driving cars, although hit with some setbacks, continue to be tested by numerous OEMs and tech giants like Google and Uber. Able to navigate with little or no human interference, autonomous driving is classified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by levels from 0 to 5  -  with 0 having no autonomous functions and 5 being a fully autonomous car.

5 levels of vehicle autonomy

Autonomous Driving  -  The Diversification into other Industries

Autonomous cars, also known as self-driving cars, or driverless cars will change the driving experience and make some significant economic and environmental impacts. Capable of sensing its surroundings, and navigating without human input, once the use of this type of transportation becomes an everyday occurrence, parking will become easier; whether as a personal car or fleet vehicle. Furthermore, there will be gas emissions will decline, accident rates will drop, the insurance industry will change, and it may be the beginning of the end of the automotive era as we know it.

The fleet management industry will benefit from automated vehicles because they aim to improve productivity, safety, and are more fuel efficient. Autonomous trucks, such as those already being tested by Daimler, Tesla, Einride, Google and Uber, will have the technology to make the decision to take the most efficient routes and taking over a long commute so the driver can rest and avoid accidents.

Autonomous tractors are used in farms where the use of large, heavy equipment can be dangerous. Efficiency is also increased by operating an autonomous tractor in a field to carry out tasks like planting, harvesting and maintaining crops in conjunction with other farm machines. Other advantages of autonomous tractors include accurate planting, ability to collect information such as soil conditions and reducing work that would otherwise be done manually by a farmer.

Autonomous driving robots for defense includes the use of autonomous vehicles on battlefields and possibly in combat. Unmanned combat vehicles would certainly protect troops and reduce the number soldiers' lives lost. However, the challenges of having autonomous driving robots are cost constraints and having to face other challenges not seen in everyday driving like off-road driving and being able to detect and avoid different objects.

Autonomous Driving related Stats:

Autonomous Driving related Stats
  • There are six times as many vehicles permitted on public streets in 2017 in California compared with 2014.
  • IHS Automotive predicts that Global sales of autonomous vehicles will reach nearly 600,000 units in 2025.
  • By 2025, the car market for partially autonomous vehicles is expected to reach $36B.
  • Ten million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020 and IHS Automotive forecasts that in 2035 there will be about 54 million autonomous cars in use worldwide.

Current Status at OEMs

Existing Auto OEMs  - Autonomous cars have been the focus of many auto OEMs. Big-name car OEMs like Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, BMW, and Tesla have been testing their autonomous vehicles for release within five years. Ahead of the race is Tesla, who is said to be manufacturing all its vehicles to enable self-driving by 2018.

Existing Auto OEMs


  • Google/Waymo -Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc. started their self-driving car project in 2016 called Waymo. The company is the first to put fully self-driving cars on US roads without a safety driver. The company has reported a total of 636,868 miles covered by their fleet of cars in autonomous mode since the start of 2017 and have also been seeing less failures. In addition to making their own self driving cars, Waymo is creating software and hardware for self-driving cars for their cars and other car manufacturers to use.
  • Uber  -  Uber launched its first self-driving car services in 2016 but has been plagued with setbacks. First is the Waymo vs Uber lawsuit, wherein Uber allegedly used stolen files from former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, now the head of Uber's self-driving car project. Another setback is having had their vehicle registration for testing revoked by the California DMV as the Uber vehicles were not properly marked as test vehicles. Having moved their self-driving program to Arizona, which has a rules-free environment for driverless cars, Uber is investing $300M to further developing and getting their fleet of autonomous cars on the road.
  • Tesla  -  Tesla's Model 3 and all the vehicles produced in their factory are equipped with the hardware enabling full self-driving capability. The automaker boasts that these cars are "at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver." Enhanced Autopilot will have functions that include automatically changing lanes and ability to summon the car from your garage. Right now, Tesla is preparing for an automated cross-country test drive in 2018  -  a slight delay from when it was first scheduled for the end of 2017.
  • Fisker Inc.  -  Fisker Inc. is working on an electric car able to travel 400 miles on a single charge, which is almost twice the 215-mile range of Tesla's Model 3. Like Tesla's vehicles, the Fisker EMotion will be equipped with hardware that will allow fully autonomous driving. Fisker released a prototype of the Emotion this year. Although still in the presales stage, it is due for release in 2019.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Autonomous Driving


  • Safer roads, increased safety
  • Improved traffic and fuel efficiency
  • More productive time for passengers
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Accessible to all
  • Increase parking availability
  • Reduction in car insurance premiums
Autonomous Driving


  • Job loss
  • Reliability of car functionality
  • High cost of owning one
  • Privacy concerns due to collecting user information
  • Police interaction
  • Overall safety
  • Inability to read hand signals, i.e. — from police officers when signal lights are down

Factors slowing Down the process:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Intellectual property for technology used in autonomous vehicles is one of the reasons for the slow-down of the process. It is likely that new players in the industry will subject manufacturers and suppliers to intellectual property claims. Most recently, Waymo filed a trade secret case against Uber over allegedly stolen trade secrets, solidifying the risk and the need for better IP rights.

    Tesla, however, believes in an open sourced philosophy. The company does not want to inhibit the use of their technology, but rather, keep it open for use by others for the advancement of vehicle technology. Elon Musk's blog post, "All Our Patent Are Belong To You," explains the reasons for sharing its patents for free.

  • Lawsuits
  • Autonomous vehicle lawsuits against manufacturers, some involving fatalities, have also slowed down the process of self-driving cars hitting the roads. Aside from Waymo's lawsuit against Uber, Tesla is not only involved in a lawsuit for its autopilot program for allegedly being sold without standard safety features, but in lawsuits claiming a racist work environment.

  • Legislation
  • Legislation has been passed in Nevada, Florida, California, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. allowing driverless cars. However, conflicting rules on car standards and regulation is another reason that is slowing progress. Conflicting rules and regulations from state to state is an obstacle that needs to be addressed so manufacturers will be able to implement new technologies that are compatible not only locally, but globally.

  • Standardization in Public
  • One of the issues with the adaptation of autonomous cars is standardization. Different manufacturers are testing vehicles using their own technology, and standardizing vehicles for public safety and the ability for vehicles to meet federal safety standards needs to be considered.

The Future

Autonomous aerial vehicles (AAV) have already been tested by the United Arab Emirates' Road and Transport Authority (RTA). The Ehang 184 will soon be flying over Dubai. The AAV, a collaboration with the Chinese firm specializing in smart drones, Ehang, can carry a passenger at a low altitude over medium to short distance by inputting information on a touchscreen.

Uber's flying car project, Elevate, is already being tested in Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai. It's aerial, low flying taxi service may soon be seen flying over Los Angeles as early as 2020. Uber has even signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create an air traffic control system to manage these AAVs.

Our Thoughts: What we expect to Happen in 2018 and Beyond

Though Elon Musk insists that autonomous cars will be available in 2018, much more needs to happen for autonomous cars to be fully adopted around the world. We feel that Aerial Autonomous Vehicles/Flying Cars will be adopted much faster than autonomous cars. Although we believe that autonomous cars adoption will happen over time and will peak around 2035 — but first the issues surrounding the adoption of autonomous cars must be resolved.

Undoubtedly, the excitement around autonomous driving continues. Although there is much buzz around Tesla, the reality is that other auto OEMS, especially from European brands like Volvo, BMW, and VW, are not too far off from releasing their autonomous cars. Some would even say that they are more advanced — using technology like Lido and capable of higher levels of autonomous driving. No matter the technologies used or not used, the disadvantages of autonomous car, lawsuits, and legislation issues, the race is still on as to who will release the first fully autonomous vehicle.