BMW, Ford, and Uber have all recently said they plan to have “fully autonomous” cars ready to drive themselves on the road in 2021 (see “2021 May Be the Year of the Fully Autonomous Car”). Ford says its fleet of vehicles will lack steering wheels and offer a robotic taxi service.
But don’t expect to toss out your driver's license in 2021. Five years isn’t long enough to create vehicles good enough at driving to roam extensively without human input, say researchers working on autonomous cars. They predict that Ford and others will meet their targets by creating small fleets of vehicles limited to small, controlled areas.
“Probably what Ford would do to meet their 2021 milestone is have something that provides low-speed taxi service limited to certain roads—and don’t expect it to come in the rain,” says Steven Shladover of the University of California, Berkeley, who has worked on automated driving for more than 20 years.
Shladover says many media outlets and members of the public are overinterpreting statements from Ford and other companies that are less specific than they appear. The dream of being able to have a car drive you wherever you want to go in the city, country, or continent remains distant, he says. “It ain’t going to be five years,” says Shladover. “The hype has gotten totally out of sync with reality.”
But, hey, let's shut down all the mass transit systems tomorrow. Because the self-driving cars will be here! Tommorrow, tomorrow...