How far are we from self driving cars?

As IT savvy BIM students, most of us probably have already heard about the concept for “self driving cars”. So how far are we from going University or work in one of those somewhat magical machines?

Let me briefly walk you through this “driverless car” concept and make some bold predictions.

Why do we need a self-driving car?

A self-driving car is a highly autonomous vehicle. The difference between a self-driving car and your automatic VW golf is quite straightforward — a self-driving car does not need you. The Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already proposed a classification for autonomous vehicles. A truly driverless car should achieve the highest level (level 4) of automation. For the reason of simplicity, I will use the term “driverless car” to describe a level 4 autonomous vehicles in this post.

  • Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.

According to ASIRT, nearly 1.3 million people die every year on our planet. To put it more visually, that is 3287 deaths per day, an equivalent of 3.85 fully packed airbus A380-800 flight crashes on a daily basis. Clearly there are lots of improvements needed to be done. For the past decades, we have already made changes around it, like, seat belts, airbags and better tougher bumpers. Now it is the time for us to focus on the real problem, careless drivers.

For the record, I am not saying currently driverless cars don’t make any mistakes, nor they are better than the greatest, safest driver on earth, but they can be one in the short coming future. Given the fact that a driverless car don’t blind, feel tired or use cell phones while driving, they are just more stable comparing with human drivers.

Who are developing those cars?

Both IT savvy giants and the traditional auto manufacturers have already spotted the benefits for a driverless car. Google has been pushing the driverless concept since 2012 and recently its prototype has already become the headlines everywhere on the news media. It has no pedal brake, no steering wheel and only a button to start and stop in the Pokemon-ish “car” thing.

The concept vehicle has only two seats, a displaying screen and it is able to travel at a top speed of 25mph (40km/h). According to Google, its sensors can enable the vehicle’s computer to determine its location and surroundings within the range of several hundred meters.

Elon Musk, (yea, the iron man in flesh) and his Tesla is also working on autonomous vehicles. However, their vision is slightly different from Google’s driverless concept. They think the car currently should be driven by humans, with an autopilot functionality. The Model S cars sold since September 2014 with the necessary equipment for autopilot mode can now upgrade its software for autopilot functions.

It works like this: The driver turn on the auto pilot feature when the Model S is traveling at 18- 90 miles per hour. When autosteer is activated, traffic-aware cruise control will also turn on to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead.

The traditional auto-makers join to the battlefield too. Companies like GM, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW all released their autonomous car concept. The competition escalated quickly.


Okay, here is my prediction:

The first purely driverless commercial car will be launched to the public between 2018 and 2020. Cars with autopilot/driving assistant functions will become the industry standard by 2020.

The greatest barrier preventing ordinary customers to “drive” a driverless vehicle, in my opinion, will be the slowly changing regulations. Currently only a few states in the US permit such pure driverless cars on the road for testing purposes, and also in some parts of European countries like Britain and Germany.

One thing in particular regarding to legislation I am curious about: If a autonomous car run over someone, who should be liable for that responsibility? The car manufacturer or the person sitting inside of it?

Do you agree with my predictions? Let me know.

References:,. ‘Forecasts | Driverless Car Market Watch’. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Hars, Dr. et al. ‘Legal Issues | Driverless Car Market Watch’. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Top Gear,. ‘The Google Self-Driving Car Is Here’. N.p., 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Truong, Alice. ‘Tesla Just Transformed The Model S Into A Nearly Driverless Car’. Quartz. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.


2 responses to “How far are we from self driving cars?”

  1. 439921dt says :

    Hello RayMingLei,
    nice article, I find this topic very interesting. I worked for Continental before I begun to study BIM. Looking at revenues, Continental is the biggest supplier for the car manufacturers like VW, Toyota or GM. Automatic driving is one of the biggest topics in the automobile industry. Audi expects that in 2020 the first self driving cars will be offered. Continentals perspective is that in 2025 a wide adoption of self driving cars will be achieved. I am more sceptical about this: I think that automated driving won’t have a big boom before 2030.

    Automatic driving also means higehr security on the streets: I believe that in future, no speeding violations will be possible, as cars will be connecetd to satellites, which will track the speed of every car. Hence, speeding violations can be immediately tracked by governmental officials.

    I also predict that in future people will not be allowed to drive cars anymore, since most accidents on the road root from human mistakes. Intelligent systems in cars will enable a high security standard.

  2. gustavswritesforinformationstrategyorsomething says :


    Interesting topic. I agree with previous commentary that 2020 seems slightly too early. Especially considering the fact that currently it is estimated that the driverless cars are exactly on Gartner’s Hype cycle.

    Moreover, an important thing to remember is that the last steps take the longest. So I believe that soon it will be decently possible to use these cars in “simple situations”, for instance, on the highways. However, in cities or other locations where traffic is much more dynamic, it will take more time. Similar as cruise drive (not completely the same, but…) And I think that this last transition could take 5 to 10 years
    And, yeah. It seems that it’s going to be much less intereting than we currently estimate.

    Regarding the responsibility: I believe that there are going to be much more responsibilities of the car manufacturer, but overall it will still be question of whose responsibility was the failure. If the driver did nothing wrong, why would he need to be responsible.

    However, I cannot wait to see these driverless cars in India or other places with slightly loose traffic regulations 😀

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