By now it’s old news that connected cars were this years’ golden child at CES. Without a doubt, connected, smart, autonomous, whatever one wants to call them vehicles are going to be one of the biggest and most active arenas of the next few years.
So far, much of the “driverless” vector of this segment is “forward thinking” with a lot of cool little accessories and functionality that creates the “wow” factor. I think the industry wants one to think it is a bit further ahead than it really is. Yes, there is some really cool driver support and other neat apps, like the one I talked about a newsletter or two ago where the vehicle can tell you how long you are going to have to wait for your green light. And some limited input capabilities like self-parking and self-backing are fairly easy to do with only the vehicle having intelligence.
But without the co-evolution of parallel platforms (smart infrastructures) autonomous cars are going to have some level of driver assist or at the least, monitoring, for a long time to come. There are demos, trials and basic applications that have vehicles doing it all but they are very primitive and not quite ready for prime time. (Remember the Tesla case?)
I recently had a conversation with an old contemporary, Steven Shladover, professor and the former deputy director and current program manager for mobility at California PATH. His take on a fully integrated, autonomous vehicular infrastructure, where one simply gets into it at point A, gets out at point B and never even looks at the vehicle’s operation, is that it is 30 to 50 years out. And the major reason is that it takes both platforms (the vehicle and the infrastructure) to make it fully autonomous.
Most of what was shown at CES is still very basic in the evolution of autonomous vehicles. This tells me that the players are looking for exposure. It is early enough in the game that first and second generation accessories and technologies are being sold as autonomous, when they are really just various renditions of driver assist. When the steering wheel, pedals, and controls are gone, then we will have arrived. That wasn’t at CES.