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A decade after Elon Musk first started hyping self-driving vehicles, here’s why we still don’t have them

According to predictions made Almost ten years ago, we should be driving around in self-driving vehicles today. It is now clear that the autonomous vehicle revolution was overhyped.

Proponents miserably underestimate the technological challenges. It is proving difficult to develop a truly self-driving vehicle.

The other factor fueling the hype was the amount of money invested in autonomous vehicle startups. By 2021, it is estimated to be more than $100 billion in venture capital had gone into developing the technology.

While progress is being made, it is important to understand that there are multiple levels of autonomy. Only one is truly driverless. As established by SAE Internationalthe levels are:

  • level 0 — the driver must perform all driving tasks
  • level 1, hands-on/shared control — the vehicle has basic driver assistance features such as cruise control and lane keeping
  • level 2, no hands – vehicle has advanced driver assistance functions such as emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assistance and traffic jam assist
  • level 3, eyes off – the vehicle drives itself some of the time
  • level 4, mind off – vehicle usually drives itself
  • level 5, steering wheel option — vehicle drives itself all the time.

Why the slow progress?

It is estimated that the technology to deliver safe autonomous vehicles is approx 80% developed. The last 20% gets more and more difficult. It will take a lot more time to perfect.

Challenges yet to be solved relate to unusual and rare events that can happen along any street or highway. They include weather, wildlife crossing the road, and highway construction.

Since then, another set of problems has cropped up Cruising And Waymo launched their autonomous ride-hailing services in San Francisco. The US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration opened an investigation in December 2022, just six months after the services were approved. It cited incidents where these vehicles “may have been subjected to inappropriate hard braking or immobilisation”.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority stated:

[I]In the months since the initial approval of autonomous taxi services in June 2022, Cruise AVs have made unplanned and unexpected stops in lanes, where they obstruct traffic and transit and intrude into active emergency response scenes, including firefighting scenes, creating additional hazardous situations. conditions.

In several cases, Cruise engineers had to be called in to move the vehicles.

What happens now?

Active autonomous vehicle initiatives can be grouped into two categories: ride-hailing services (Cruise, Waymo, and Uber) and sales to the public (Tesla).

Cruise is a subsidiary of General Motors founded in 2013. As of September 2022, it operated 100 robotaxis in San Francisco and had plans to expand its fleet to 5,000. Critics said this would increase city traffic.

Cruise also began offering services in December 2022 in Chandler (a suburb of Phoenix), Arizona, and Austin, Texas.

Waymo, formerly the Google Self-Driving Car Project, was founded in January 2009. The company lost $4.8 billion in 2020 and $5.2 billion in 2021.

Waymo One offers autonomous ride-hailing services Phoenix and San Francisco. It plans to expand to Los Angeles this year.

Uber played an important role in the development of autonomous vehicles, as part of the company’s plan was to replace human drivers. However, it ran into trouble, including a March 2018 crash when a self-driving Uber killed a woman crossing a street on her bike in Tempe, Arizona. In 2020, Arizona Uber sold its AV research division to Aurora Innovation.

But in October 2022, Uber stepped back into autonomous vehicles sign an agreement with Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv. Motional will provide autonomous vehicles for Uber’s taxi services and delivery services.

Tesla, autopilot, car, self-driving

Photo: AdobeStock

Lyft, the second-largest ride-sharing company after Uber, operates in the US and Canada. Like Uber, Lyft had a self-driving unit, and in 2016 Lyft co-founder John Zimmer predicted that by 2021 the majority of journeys on its network would be in such vehicles (and that private car ownership would “virtually end” by 2025). It didn’t happen. In 2021, Lyft had that too sold its self-driving vehicle unitto Toyota.

In 2022 Zimmer said the technology would not replace drivers for the next ten years. However, Lyft partnered with Motional to launch in August 2022 robotaxis in las vegas And Los Angeles.

Telsa is the world leader in sales of battery electric vehicles. It also claims to sell vehicles with full automation. However, at the end of 2022, there were no Level 3, 4, or 5 vehicles for sale in the United States.

What Telsa offers is a full self-driving system as a $15,000 option. Buyers acknowledge that they are purchasing a beta version and assume all risk. Telsa does not accept any responsibility if the system malfunctions.

In February 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found it:

[Fully self-driving] beta software that allows a vehicle to exceed speed limits or cross intersections in an illegal or unpredictable manner increases the risk of an accident.

This led to Tesla recall of 362,000 vehicless to update the software.

Another setback for the sale of autonomous vehicles to the public was the announcement in October 2022 that Ford and VW had decided to do so stop financing autonomous driving technology company Argo AI, resulting in its closure. Both Ford and VW decided to shift their focus from Level 4 automation to Levels 2 and 3.

What can we expect next?

The development of autonomous vehicles continues, but with less hype. It is recognized as more of an evolutionary process than a revolutionary one. The rising cost of capital will also make it more difficult for autonomous vehicle startups to get development funds.

The areas that seem to be making the best progress are autonomous ride-hailing and heavy-duty vehicles. Selling self-driving cars to the public is further down the track.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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