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Autonomous-ready cars on the rise, yet real deployment is another story

Autonomous-ready cars on the rise, yet real deployment is another story
While the number of autonomous-ready vehicles may increase over the next few years, commercial deployments and sales may not keep up due to various factors.
Needless to say, autonomous vehicles are a hot topic among carmakers, fleet operators and consumers alike. However, while the number of autonomous-ready vehicles may increase over the next few years, commercial deployments and sales may not keep up due to various factors.
Increasingly, autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving vehicles or driverless vehicles, have gained more attention. It seems Knight Rider-like scenarios – where the vehicle KITT drives on its own while the protagonist, Michael Knight, plays videogames – are a step closer to reality.
Technology certain plays a role in this as hardware devices – a lot of them used in security – become more advanced and mature. These include CCTV cameras, which are put on the right, left, rear and front sides of the vehicle to serve as its “eyes," capturing traffic signals or surrounding moving objects for further analysis by ADAS or other types of central systems.
Cameras are then supplemented by radars, which can determine the velocity and locations of various moving objects surrounding the vehicle and can support cameras during night time. The LiDAR sensor, meanwhile, can shoot out some 1 million beams per second and can help form a 3D rendering of the vehicle’s surroundings.
In fact, several public and private entities are already trialing autonomous vehicles in certain countries. In Singapore, for example, the country’s Land Transport Authority is trialing autonomous buses in a rural area. Toyota’s autonomous e-Palette vehicles, meanwhile, will be tasked with transporting athletes during the Tokyo Olympics Games next year.
So what are the prospects of autonomous vehicles in the future? According to a recent study by Gartner, by 2023, worldwide net additions of autonomous-ready vehicles – those equipped with hardware that could enable autonomous driving without human supervision – will reach 745,705 units, up from 332,932 expected for 2019. The number breaks down to 37,361 for commercial applications and 708,344 for consumer applications, according to the market research firm.
“This growth will predominantly come from North America, Greater China and Western Europe, as countries in these regions become the first to introduce regulations around autonomous driving technology,” says Gartner, which also stresses that net additions represent the annual increase in the number of vehicles equipped with hardware for autonomous driving, not sales of physical units.
As for sales prospects of real autonomous vehicles, Gartner cites certain inhibiting factors, which are summarized as follows.

Lack of regulation

According to the firm, today, there are no countries with active regulations that allow production-ready autonomous vehicles to operate legally. “This is a major roadblock to their development and use,” Gartner said. “As we see more standardized regulations around the use of autonomous vehicles, production and deployment will rapidly increase, although it may be a number of years before that occurs.”

Sensor costs

The aforementioned sensors and hardware devices are expensive. “Sophisticated LiDAR devices can cost upward of US$75,000 per unit, which is more than double the price of your average consumer automobile. This puts higher-level autonomous vehicle technology out of reach for the mainstream market, at least for now,” Gartner said.

Safety concerns

One of the biggest challenges ahead for the industry will be to determine when autonomous vehicles are safe enough for road use, the company said. “It’s difficult to create safety tests that capture the responses of vehicles in an exhaustive range of circumstances. It won’t be enough for an autonomous vehicle to be just slightly better at driving than a human. From a psychological perspective, these vehicles will need to have substantially fewer accidents in order to be trusted,” it said.

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