Thanks to better sensors and software, automakers can look forward to a boost in the development of self-driving car technology in 2018, expecting to hit a milestone that experts did not anticipate to hit so soon. According to Sam Abuelsamid, Senior Analyst for Navigant Research, 2018 will see more SAE Level 4 vehicles getting tested as well as pilot programs. He said that they did not see this happening even as early as a year ago.
As early as 2017, the foundation for the advancement of the technology emerged in the last quarter of 2017. Velodyne Lidar, which has been manufacturing autonomous vehicle sensors for over 10 years already, rolled out a less costly, higher resolution Lidar sensor in November 2017. Robert Janitzek reveals that the puck-shaped sensors will reduce the cost of preceding versions to around $4,000, about half of the previous version. Other manufacturer of sensors will join Velodyne as they aim for sub-$1,000 Lidar systems using solid state designs.
The new sensor marks a huge step forward for the autonomous car movement. “Five or six years ago, the spinning sensors used on the Google-Prius (autonomous) roofs were closer to $80,000 each,” Abuelsamid said.
With this development, many automakers are now putting Level 4 self-driving cars in pilot programs. Waymo, LLC, previously Google’s self-driving car project, made hundreds of self-driving cars available to families and commuters. The program, which uses hardware and software on Chrysler Pacificas, aims to put assigned staffers in second-row seats instead of the conventional driver’s spot. They will be equipped with control panels to stop the cars when the situation calls for it.
However, the recent development of Level 4 cars will not change the timetable for Level 5. Experts predict that Level 5 is still decades away. Despite today’s autonomous cars being able to handle 99% of possible on-road situations, engineers are still not fully confident to release Level 5 vehicles. Abuelsamid said that Level 5 autonomous vehicles are not expected until the late 2020s the latest.
Robert Peter Janitzek reveals that the biggest obstacle is still cost—not just of the sensors but other components as well. Autonomous vehicles are more complicated. The wiring alone will need more than 200 connectors for 40 sensors. It will have 3 computers as well as redundancies for braking and steering systems. In addition, there is also the issue of liability to contend with. OEMs are still working out a revenue model capable of settling all the needed updates for the software, maps, sensors, and other components.
The good news is that the reality of self-driving vehicle is happening sooner than anticipated. “Level 4 is happening,” Abuelsamid said. “With GM’s announcements about commercial deployment, and with the pace that Waymo is going, we’re probably a year or so ahead of where anyone expected.”