The following factoids will let you paint a better picture of what to expect of AVs in 2035 and beyond.

While many consumers worldwide wait on the edge of their seats for driverless cars to become a commercially affordable reality, what are some of the most common misconceptions, queries and uncertainties around fully autonomous vehicles (AVs)?

Firstly, when will truly autonomous vehicles be available?

As of now, there are no fully self-driving cars available to buy, but several autonomous car test projects are currently navigating city streets. In the retail market, vehicles that offer advanced driver assistance (ADAS) features that bring them closer to being “self-driving” are becoming more prominent. For example, some vehicles allow hands-free driving on pre-mapped highways, while others provide autonomous driving under a certain speed limit on specific roads.

Taking a stab at guessing a timeline, research firm GlobalData predicts the first few million AVs will be available by 2035 that can navigate within a limited, geo-fenced area, as well the launch of some 2.7m AVs equipped to handle all self-driving tasks in all circumstances and environments.

How safe are self-driving cars?

This is the next common question in the minds of would-be users. In terms of the technologies being tested:

  • Infrared sensors will detect lane markings, pedestrians, and cyclists in low lighting and certain environmental conditions
  • RAdio Detection And Ranging (RADAR), as well as LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors will be perfected for safe AV operation to protect passengers and road users
  • Many automated features, from headlight activation and emergency braking to detection and avoidance, have been designed to increase passenger safety under all conditions

As a gauge, Waymo, for example, has logged over 20m miles of testing on public roads and tens of billions of miles in simulations. Tesla AVs have driven more than three billion miles in Autopilot mode since 2014.

Where do countries stand on AV laws and compliance standards?

In terms of patents for driverless car technologies the US lead the way with 135,828. China is close behind with 132,844. Japan has 57,065 and South Korea has 38,097, according to publicly available data.

Also in the top tiers of AV innovation is Germany, long known as a hub for automotive innovation. She was the first country in the world to allow AVs at “level 4 autonomy” on public roads without a human driver behind the wheel as backup.

What are the levels of vehicle operation autonomy?

The Society of Automotive Engineers has defined them from level 0 (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous).

  1. Level 0: No autonomous driving
  2. Level 1: The vehicle features a single automated system, such as monitoring speed through cruise control, while the driver monitors steering and braking.
  3. Level 2: Partial autonomous operation is enabled by Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). The vehicle can perform steering, accelerating, and decelerating. The human monitors all tasks and can take control at any time.
  4. Level 3: Vehicles at this level have conditional autonomous control and “environmental detection” capabilities that allow them to make informed decisions, like speeding up for a slow-moving car. The driver must remain alert and take control of the car when needed.
  5. Level 4: At this level, AVs themselves can intervene if things go wrong or if there is a system failure. However, the human driver can manually override the automation when needed. For now, level 4 vehicles are allowed to operate in self-driving mode within a pre-defined, limited area known as “geo-fencing,” where speeds reach an average of 30 mph.
  6. Level 5: Such vehicles will have full driving automation and will not require any human attention. They do not have steering wheels or pedals for accelerating or braking and will not have to adhere to geo-fencing limitations. No Level 5 AVs are currently available to the general public.

Are ADAS and fully autonomous driving the same thing?

An AV requires much more complex hardware, software, and computing power, as well as testing on the road and in the lab to accommodate millions of miles of driving scenarios. AVs are designed to manage every part of the trip without the help of a human driver.

Comparatively, AVs with ADAS features utilize cameras and radar sensors to alert drivers of other vehicles or pedestrians, activate brakes in the event of an emergency, perform adaptive cruise control, and more. However, they rely on a driver to step in when necessary to take control of the vehicle’s functions.

What is the “connected car” or “vehicle-to-everything” (V2X)?

The “connected car” refers to connected-vehicle technology that, using internet connectivity and automotive networking, communicates with outside systems. This can include vehicle-to-vehicle communication, along with GPS or apps to unlock or start your car. 

Also known as vehicle-to-everything, or V2X technology, such systems share real-time information with drivers, other vehicles, pedestrians, and roadway infrastructure through sensors, cameras, and wireless connectivity.

Are Software-Defined Vehicles also AVs?

A software-defined vehicle (SDV) provides owners with access to safety updates, security, comfort features, over-the-air updates, improved vehicle life-cycle management, and more. The vehicle will be updated, enhanced, and will obtain more advanced capabilities throughout its lifetime, much like the way that a consumer can update his or her smartphone.

This is a big step ahead of the vehicles of the past that would lose value when driven off the dealer’s lot. It can also unleash new insights into driver behavior patterns, road and environmental conditions, safety, and maintenance, and more: ultimately paving the way (and speeding innovation) for self-driving cars of the future.

An SDV can co-exist with AVs, but it also can be a vehicle that is not fully autonomous and offers ADAS (Level 2) features. However, with software updates available over the lifetime of a vehicle, an SDV can potentially evolve and advance with the latest technologies. 

Original equipment manufacturers envision a future where technology updates can be rolled out to AVs in the middle of production cycles instead of consumers having to waiting for new model launches.