You say driverless – I say self-driving cars

There has been much talk recently about driverless or self driving cars. Whichever, description you prefer to use, there’s no doubt that this new technology will be a game changer for many industries.

The background to self drive

Self drive car rental is a term used today by the car hire / car rental industry. The reason why self drive became a term used by this industry is to differentiate it from taxis and private hire firms offering a chauffeur to drive you to your destination. Self drive has always meant that a human being will be in charge of the vehicle and doing the driving. But, that could become a thing of the past as companies race to become the first and dominant players in the changing world of self-driving cars.

Who is driving the future of self-driving?

You would have thought that car manufacturers would be at the forefront of this potentially game changing movement. However, it appears to be technology companies that are making the most of this opportunity.

This isn’t the first time that an outsider to the car industry has stolen a march and left the big names to play catch up. Tesla Motors was started in 2003 with a vision of an all electric car driven future. Apart from Nissan, it’s only been in recent years that other car manufacturers have included electric cars in their line up of new cars. Tesla used technology to their advantage and our now the biggest and arguably the best manufacturer of electric cars.

Back to the future, and Google started their self-driving project in 2009, and became Waymo in 2016 ( They describe themselves as a self-driving technology company and their mission is to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.

The almost evangelical sounding message from Waymo sounds like something John Lennon could have helped them pen – “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving. Time spent commuting, could be time spent doing what you want,  as the car handles all of the driving”.

So far, Google and now Waymo have covered over 3 million miles self-driven. That’s in addition to 1 billion simulated miles driven in 2016 alone. They claim to drive 25,000 each week on ‘complex city streets’.

Tesla on the other hand have married software and hardware with their offering called Autopilot ( All their cars come with full self-driving hardware. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision.

There are other players in this market including, recently Apple, whose chief executive Tim Cook describes their venture as ‘the mother of all AI projects’. No doubt there will be some consolidation along the way and could end up with two big players competing, as we now have in the smartphone market.

When will self-driving happen?

There have been many predictions about when self-driving will become start to happen or become mainstream. John Leech, UK Head of Automotive at KPMG says “I believe robot taxis will revolutionise UK urban transportation in the second half of the next decade”.

Here are some predictions put together by

  • Volkswagen’s appointed head of Digitalization Strategy, expects the first self-driving cars to appear on the market by 2019. (Source: Focus, 2016-04-23)
  • BMW CEO Harald Krueger said that BMW will launch a self-driving electric vehicle, the BMW iNext, in 2021. (Source: Elektrek, 2016-05-12)
  • General Motor’s head of foresight and trends Richard Holman said at a confererence in Detroit that most industry participants now think that self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020 or sooner. (Source: Wall Street Journal, 2016-05-10)
  • Elon Musk of Tesla accelerates his timeline for the introduction of fully autonomous Teslas by 2 years compared to his estimate less than a year ago (October 2014). He now expects fully autonomous Teslas to be ready by 2018 but notes that regulatory approval may take 1 to 3 more years thereafter. (Source: Borsen Interview on youtube)
  • Mark Fields, CEO of Ford estimated that fully autonomous vehicles would be available on the market within 5 years. (Source:  Forbes, 2015-02-09).