The progress of self-driving cars

The self-driving car project is progressing quickly. Manufacturers, digital players, automotive suppliers and insurers are getting mobilized to speed up transition toward completely autonomous and operational cars.

No one doubts the advent of this new generation of vehicles is going to turn the insurance business upside down.

self-driving carsFotolia‘s standard licence

Development of self-driving cars

Starting from the 2000s, autonomous cars witnessed their takeoff, with the latest technological breakthroughs speeding up their development considerably. Such progress has made it possible for these cars to be endowed with artificial intelligence and to be outfitted with an Advanced Driver Assisted System (ADAS) or by an automatic steering program.

Numerous car manufacturers have ever since embarked on this venture, oftentimes in association with computer and robotics experts.

Among the manufacturers operating on this niche, we find Tesla Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda Motor, Volkswagen, Ford Motor, Volvo, Toyota, General Motors, and more recently Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Two digital players are included in this elite: Google car and Apple Car.

The five most important car manufacturers

 2015 ranking
Renault incluant Nissan
General Motors
 Future ranking
Google Car
Source: Juniper Research

Project progress of the self-driving cars

In order not to miss the future of automobiles, the various operators on this promising market have embarked on a race against the clock, each with its own strategy, roadmap, priorities, and with more or less advanced projects.

autonomous car © Steve Jurvetson CC BY 2.0

Among the most active manufacturers on this niche, there is Google. In 2018, its subsidiary Waymo seems to be ahead of its competitors by the virtue of the Waymo LiDAR technology (laser detection).

More than ten years ago, the Big Tech which launched the Google Car project, has contacted manufacturer Fiat Chrysler in order to outfit and test a hundred vehicles. Since then, the Chrysler Pacifica, a 100% autonomous car using Google technology has been more present on the roads. By the end of 2018, more than a thousand models would be available.

Other manufacturers, ahead of time, are now already present at the marketing stage of some models. BMW is intent on marketing as of 2021 the “BMW i Next”, its first entirely self-driving car.

The driverless car project is nonetheless at its beginning for other operators such as Apple which submitted patents regarding navigation systems, hiring experts in the car industry. In January 2018, Apple has emitted seven self-driving cars on the Californian roads thus having brought its total fleet to 27 cars present in that State. Five months later, that number has been brought to 45.

On the other side, General Motors announced early 2016 an investment of 500 million USD to develop its level 5 autonomous car. Starting 2019, General Motors expects to mass produce the Chevy Bolt in its latest version. The vehicle will be deprived from steering wheels and pedals. The manufacturer will have thus surpassed its competitor Ford, counting on releasing a similar model in 2021.

The first tests of self-driving cars by the Swedish Volvo go back to 2016. Very quickly and with the release of Volvo’s XC90, the manufacturer follows the testing of the cars by the public.

In 2017, Volvo has provided numerous Swedish families with XC90s to gather feedback following the use of the vehicles in real life situations.

Unfortunately for Volvo and its partner Uber, on Mars 19, 2018, the XC90 was involved in a deadly accident on American roads, having cost the life of a pedestrian crossing the street. It is the first civil victim of the driverless vehicles.

Self-driving cars: different driving approaches

driverless carSelf-parking © Mike Roberts CC BY-SA 2.0

Two approaches to autonomous driving are currently on the agenda:

The progressive approach with an Advanced Driver Assisted System (ADAS), a system that is compatible with technological evolution, the legislation in force and the current situation of the roads. It already encompasses quite a few innovations such as delegated parking, voice or gesture-controlled steering, automatic emergency braking, road holding with compliance with safety distance and the semi-automatic driving mode on highways.

100% driverless approach: Navigating without any human intervention which will be first designed to early-adopters.

In the United States, the law authorizes level 5 autonomous driving under some conditions:

  • Speed limit (40 km/h for the Google car in traffic in California),
  • The presence of a driver behind the steering wheel, ready to step in if need be and at any time.

Despite notable breakthroughs, several technical limitations are, nonetheless, restricting the scope of application of these vehicles such as driving in urban cities where the self-driving cars is required to put up with the other cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

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