Navigant Research Blog

Autonomous Vehicles: Your Questions Answered

Dave Alexander — December 2, 2013

In our November webinar, The Era of Self Driving Cars, not all the audience questions were answered.  So, I am addressing more of them in this blog.  Detailed answers to these questions can be found in Navigant Research’s report, Autonomous Vehicles.

Q: Would autonomous vehicles solve the problem of drunk driving?

A: A long time into the future, when all cars are autonomous, drunk driving will no longer be an issue.  In the next 15 years, we will see increasingly automated driving functions – but a competent and sober driver will still be required for a long time.  Autonomous taxis will be one of the first commercial implementations.

Q: Any Tesla activities in autonomous driving, more than words, to prove that it is a real contender?

A: Tesla has made strong statements about offering self-driving cars by 2016, but as I noted in a recent blog, its first delivery will essentially be some ADAS features that will be the foundation for future autonomous driving capability.

EVs vs. ICEs

Q: Is the implementation of full autonomous driving better supported by electric vehicles (EVs) than by internal combustion engine (ICE) technology?  Are autonomous vehicles more likely to be EVs or traditional ICE vehicles? 

A: Autonomous driving can be implemented in any vehicle with steering, braking, and acceleration that can be controlled electrically.  These features are already being added to conventional vehicles so there is no big advantage for EVs or fuel cell EVs (FCEVs).  However, the potential for city vehicles being smaller and lighter, once collision-proofing is verified, means that autonomous EVs could be made cheaper or given greater range.

Q: What will the cost increase be for a typical vehicle?

A: Early versions are likely to cost in excess of $10,000 for autonomous features, which is why they will only be on the high-end luxury models at first.  Once the technology has evolved to the point that capability can be offered for less than $2000, it will migrate to the higher volume segments.

What About security?

Q: On the liability issue: Since autonomous driving is a safety feature, but a convenience feature officially, doesn’t this constitute a legal defense for OEMs?

A: Yes, it will be marketed as a convenience feature, and that will help allay liability concerns.  But, OEMs are wary of the damage American lawsuits can do to their businesses, so they err on the side of caution.

Q: Autonomous cars imply much software that is accessible from remote location.  Is security (vulnerability management or cryptography) included in software design?

A: Yes software security is a big part of modern automotive design.  The biggest effort goes into making sure the origin of the signal is verified.  However, there will still be the option in the car to disable self-driving functions.

Standards On the Way

Q: Israel recently passed legislation that grants tax incentives for safety systems installed in new vehicles, but the lack of standards makes it much harder to implement.  Are standards on the way?

A: Yes.  This work is underway at the Society of Automotive Engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States, and by New Car Assessment Program organizations around the world.

Q: Can you talk about the prospects for public transit agencies to adopt fleets of massively networked and smaller autonomous vehicles?

A: There is great potential for individual mass transport once the technology has been demonstrated in small-scale tests that are starting now.

Q: Do you agree that if the United States doesn’t get to grips with the liability and regulation issues, another country will get to Level 4 commercialization first?  If this happens, which country do you think will win the Level 4 commercialization race?

A: The technology is primarily being developed by automotive OEMs and suppliers, and it will be rolled out in whichever countries (or states) provide the necessary law changes and environment that encourages the technology.  Japan has a slight lead at the moment, and some individual countries within the EU are getting active.  It is going to be interesting to watch.


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