Who’s Driving?

Full disclosure: I love to drive. When people started talking about self-driving cars, the first thing I asked myself was: What question is this the answer to?

But people who thought they were the greatest idea ever were undaunted. Predictions about self-driving cars being on the roads in huge numbers by this year were everywhere.

Now we have hit the brakes. I read an article recently, “The Costly Pursuit of Self-Driving Cars Continues On. And On. And On.” It’s subtitle is revealing: “Many in Silicon Valley promised that self-driving cars would be a common sight by 2021. Now the industry is resetting expectations and settling in for years of more work.” Here is how it begins:

It was seven years ago when Waymo discovered that spring blossoms made its self-driving cars get twitchy on the brakes. So did soap bubbles. And road flares.

New tests, in years of tests, revealed more and more distractions for the driverless cars. Their road skills improved, but matching the competence of human drivers was elusive. The cluttered roads of America, it turned out, were a daunting place for a robot.

The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here