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Automated Driving 4 min read

Leveling up AI: how close are we to self-driving cars?

An illustration of a passenger traveling in their self-driving car.

Getting your car to do the driving for you is the automotive industry's end goal, but the journey isn't straightforward.

Self-driving cars are one of the most exciting developments in automotive history. But the arrival of vehicles with no one behind the wheel is taking longer than most of us expected. According to recent predictions, the automotive industry will not develop a fully self-driving car until 2035

So, while everyone agrees that autonomous vehicles are the future, there is plenty of debate about how soon this future will arrive.

A car travels on a mountainous road.

A winding road

Despite the great enthusiasm from both the automotive industry and its eager customers, the journey toward full autonomy is more complex than it appears. To maintain the forward momentum, self-driving systems require not only technological advancements but also regulatory and societal acceptance. There are many boxes to tick. Factors such as safety, reliability, infrastructure adaptation and legal frameworks are all crucial aspects that require careful consideration before autonomous vehicles can become broadly accepted.

Let’s look at the timeframe. Cars that are currently in the manufacturing process will likely be on the road for at least 20 years or more. And although automated to a certain extent, these cars are not fully autonomous. What this means is that the transition to cars that are fully in control will be gradual and human drivers will continue to share the roads with vehicles that drive themselves for quite some time. And the mixed traffic comes with an entire set of challenges we have yet to discover.

HERE at CES 2024

Ahead of the curve

Despite these obstacles, researchers are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate the development of driverless vehicles. They're developing new approaches that use reinforcement learning with neural networks, aiming to enhance the performance and safety of self-driving cars. These efforts are part of a broader trend in the automotive industry where AI and machine learning technologies are increasingly being used to drive innovation.

The environment seems to agree. Looking at the trends from CES 2024, it's evident that the automotive sphere is focusing on sustainability and AI-driven technologies. Sophisticated features such as lidar sensors, which use light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances, are playing a pivotal role in the development of autonomous vehicles.

It's safe to say that technological advancement is one of the key ingredients in the advancement of self-driving systems. Whether lidar, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) or intelligent speed assistance (ISA), no innovation in driverless car systems can go very far without location technology. Combining location data with AI can enable cars to understand their environment better, allowing them to make informed decisions that enhance safety and efficiency on the road.

Autonomous vehicle driving on road toward camera

Hiding in plain sight

Despite the steady innovation that is constantly improving safety and efficiency, there's a debate worth having about how autonomous vehicles will integrate into traffic and if they should somehow stand out. Unlike conventional automobiles where the focus is on driving, autonomous vehicles prioritize the passenger experience. This shift in focus brings new design considerations.

For instance, with no need for a driver, the interior space of the cockpit can be reimagined to enhance comfort, safety and convenience. And while some believe that self-driving cars should be like conventional cars, others argue that their unique functionality and priorities need a more recognizable design. Only time will tell.

BMW 7 Series HERE HD Live Map Personal Pilot

Driving progress 

With steady advancements in self-driving systems and the integration of AI and other in-vehicle technologies, a future where driverless cars roam the streets is slowly turning from a concept to reality. And while autonomous vehicles might not be a common sight on today's roads, self-driving cars are definitely on the horizon. 

Maja Stefanovic

Maja Stefanovic

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