Car Buying

Self-Driving Cars: 16 Key Questions Surrounding Autonomous Vehicles

RELATED READING
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon

author photo by Russ Heaps January 2017

When discussing self-driving cars, we don't often consider venture capitalists as experts. Think about it, though: When putting hundreds of millions of dollars into startup firms, an investor needs to know more than a little about the product.

Located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz is a venture capital firm concentrating on technology. Every day autonomous-technology startups knock on its door asking for capital. Sifting through and evaluating such proposals requires a grasp on autonomous vehicles (AVs) and their future.

In early January of this year, Frank Chen -- a partner at Andreessen Horowitz -- anchored a podcast in which he listed the top 16 questions most often asked about self-driving cars. His firm's position is that basically everything that moves, like planes, cars, trucks, toys, shopping carts and so forth will eventually go autonomous for two reasons: The costs will collapse and the capability will be useful for us.

Breaking the 16 questions into three categories (technology, business and social) Chen fairly well explained the hurdles on the path to AV adoption.

Technology

  • How will we get to the self-driving future? Will it be the current approach of most carmakers, which involves adding one feature at a time and offering feature on top of feature until eventually we won't need to drive? Or will it be more like Google's attempt to leap right into limited or complete autonomy?
  • What array of sensors will AVs have? Today, laser-based radar (LiDar) is the most comprehensive monitor, with its 360-degree coverage, but those chicken-bucket units sitting atop some test cars run about $75,000. Although a bank of TV cameras has some limitations, such as weather, it can see almost as much as LiDar. Experts, however, expect LiDar to eventually drop in price to maybe as low as $250 a unit. More than likely, the sensor array will wind up being some combination of both cameras and LiDar.
  • Will comprehensive 3-D maps be required? Google Maps is pretty darn good, but it's designed for humans, not for cars driving on their own. Where are the curbs? Where are the traffic barrels? If AVs do require maps, who will provide them, what will they cost, and will they be all-inclusive? AVs would be limited to mapped areas. Computers could eventually calculate all this on the fly, but doing so would require huge computing capacity, which would drag down range in an electric car and mileage in a gasoline-fueled car.
  • What blend of software techniques will be used? Deep learning or artificial intelligence (AI) takes in data at one end, crunches it, and pushes instructions for steering, acceleration and braking out the other. Path Planning uses current algorithms to determine a safe path. Again, probably a combination of these will do the thinking in AVs.
  • If deep learning is going to work, how will the AI receive its experience? Tens of thousands of miles of data covering a wide range of potential experiences will be required. How much of that data will be gathered on real-world roads and how much in virtual reality?
  • What role will V2X communications play? Currently, V2X encompasses vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Among other things, V2V communications will keep cars from crashing into one another. V2I could have cars on deserted streets asking red lights to turn green. However, there are issues, such as getting these radios into all vehicles and making them all capable of communicating with one another. It's VHS versus Beta on a grander scale.
  • When will traffic lights disappear? Forgetting pedestrians and bikes for the moment, AVs won't require traffic lights. They'll be able to flow around one another in continuous movement.
  • How will AVs be localized to blend in with the driving culture of different regions and cities? Different from city to city, region to region and country to country, the local driving culture must be either programmed into or learned by the AV.

Business

  • Who will win the AV race: carmakers, Silicon Valley or China? Carmakers appear to have the lead, but autonomy is basically a software issue, providing Silicon Valley with a path to overtake carmakers. And no single country has published more deep-learning papers than China, making it the dark horse.
  • As consumers, will we continue to buy cars, or will we buy transportation as a service? (Think Uber and car sharing.) If it eventually moves to transportation as a service, the auto industry will look much more like the airline industry: It will be carmakers selling to transportation services. Consumers will become loyal to these service providers rather than to a brand or model of car. Our loyalty is to Delta or American and not to Boeing or Airbus.
  • What will be the impact on insurance? Today, premiums are primarily based on the measure of risk the driver presents, the price of the car and the locality. With AVs, lower premiums may be based on which carmaker has the safest algorithms.

Social

  • How will accident rates change? Experts fully agree that AVs will virtually eliminate human-error accidents. However, the transition from human-driven cars to AVs may actually cause an uptick in crashes as humans learn to adapt to sharing the streets with autonomous cars.
  • When will driving become illegal? It may not, but might just phase out on its own.
  • How will commutes change? Other than allowing drivers to divert their attention from the road to other things, AVs may actually cause an increase in commuting miles exactly because drivers can do other things. Who cares if the commute is 20 or 50 minutes when you can nap, read a book or drink a beer?
  • How will cities change? There will be a ripple effect from AVs that will affect all manner of things we haven't even considered.
  • When will we see the first AVs on the road and how quickly will the transition begin? Several carmakers are promising cars able to drive themselves under at least limited conditions in the next 3 to 5 years. From there, who knows?
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: 16 Key Questions Surrounding Autonomous Vehicles - Autotrader