The road to autonomy: will we ever get there?

The dream of autonomous vehicles – remember “The Jetsons” with George kicking back, hands off the wheel on his way to work? – and the actual timeline of getting driverless cars on the road are vastly different.

That’s a challenge because consumers are eager to have new and advanced mobility solutions. But there are still products to develop, technology to create and safety controls to establish, agreed a panel on "The Road to Autonomy" at the PlanetM stage during the 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.

Yet what is essential in the effort to bring autonomous vehicles to reality is a willingness to work together and open minds toward open-source knowledge that allows many hands to move the needle faster toward the end goal of safe, efficient vehicles of every kind, especially autonomous, the panel agreed.

The panel included Phil Magney of VSI Labs, a research and advisory firm for safety and autonomous driving technology; Chris Posch of FLIR, a thermal-camera company; Ryan Lewis, vice president at In-Q-Tel, an investment company where he runs a research lab that develops computer vision and remote-sensor technologies; and Shane Elwart, deputy chief engineer for Autonomous Driving Systems at American Haval Motor Technology, the U.S. subsidiary of Great Wall Motors, a Chinese automotive manufacturer.

Autonomous vehicles are on three trajectories, Magney noted: Traditional automotive manufacturers who are using cameras and radar; self-driving taxis from fleet companies that are using sensors and related tech; and fixed-route shuttles, which comes from private companies and have opportunities among agriculture, mining and trucking industries.

What’s on everyone’s collective mind is how to make these autonomous vehicles safe and accepted among drivers, the panel agreed. Making sure every aspect of the process from the vehicle to the roads to the technology is on point, is why this mobility solution is still in process and will continue to be slowly introduced.

“There’s probably been almost $100 billion invested in autonomy, maybe more, in the past several years. We’re going to make that investment pay off. How do we work on this together?” Elwart said. “Let’s put together a standard. Let’s meet that standard. And, then, let’s improve each other’s lives.”

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