Want a fully autonomous vehicle? Don’t hold your breath

Loup Ventures recently gathered data from the nine companies leading the race to build fully autonomous systems for passenger cars. Almost all companies are finding that delivering full self-driving is slow going, more challenging than believed six months ago.

vehicle under wraps

Gene Munster for Loup Ventures:

Our conclusion is based on findings that despite progress, timelines for most projects continue to be pushed back.

We’re still still years away from seeing self-driving cars become mainstream. Our best guess remains unchanged, that 2025 will be the first year of public availability of level 4. Prior to that, we will likely see level 4 semi-trucks on the road. Our bottom line: passenger car autonomy will take longer than most think, and ultimately be more transformative than anyone can image.

In March, Honda (yes, Honda has autonomy ambitions) announced the first-ever production vehicle with level 3 autonomy, which is now available in Japan in limited numbers. It’s possible we see level 3 cars from other big car manufacturers in the coming years, such as Tesla, which has edge level 3 capabilities, now available in the form of FSD beta. Regarding level 4, the most advanced of these projects continues to be Waymo (Alphabet) and Apollo (Baidu), with Waymo being slightly ahead. Both companies have already begun self-driving taxi services limited to beta users in certain geographic regions, and both say they’re on track to expand public availability of these services late this year…

We believe the industry, including Tesla, will eventually agree that autonomy will require a combination of Lidar, cameras, and digital radar. We see the breaking point for Tesla to endorse Lidar is when sensor prices decline by 50%, likely a couple years away.

MacDailyNews Take: How ’bout never?


  1. MDN, I disagree.

    Fully autonomous cars will be on the road no later than 2040 with some limited versions as early as 2030. Fully autonomous meaning you get into the car, tell it where you want to go and the car takes you there, finds an appropriate place to park, parks, and you get out. You might have to tell it things like “cheapest route” (if there potentially are toll roads), fastest route, re-route if necessary, etc., but in general once you get in and close the door you don’t have to think about your travels until it’s time to get out.

    In fact, I suspect by 2050 or 2060 at the latest you will need a special authorization of some kind in order to self drive a non autonomous car in certain locations, e.g. Manhattan.

    1. In 2050, First Whatever’s illegitimate son and troll posse will be on an Apple worship wordpress blog screaming at everyone how their political candidate would be better because their candidate, while being chauffeured around in Mercedes, has held pep rallies where at some point of the pointless rambling he said that all real Americans drive gas guzzling pickups. Because you know American consumer culture of dependency on Saudi oil and disposable Chinese plastic junk is making all y’all really great. Wave those old keys to your rusty gas guzzlers, all you dinosaurs!

  2. “autonomy will require a combination of Lidar, cameras, and digital radar”

    Humans can drive just fine with just two “cameras” and all sorts of blind spots. The fact that these autonomous systems seem to require so much data suggests to me that current development is on the wrong track. The “killer app” for self driving cars is driving people who should not take the wheel themselves for various reasons. (Children, Drunk, Sleepy ect.) That is being called “level 5”. The lesser systems can do more harm than good. No one wants a system that will hand control to the driver half a second before crashing into something.

    I wonder if “remote assisted driving” is possible. That would be where a person over the internet drives your car via video streaming. You would program the GPS as usual, and then request a driver. When they are done with you, they switch to the next car.

  3. I’m disheartened by the ubiquitous cynicism. No difficult problem was ever overcome by people sitting around pontificating about how it will never happen. Considering the calamitously high rates of current injury and death with cars due to inattention (texting), poor driving and drunk driving, breakthroughs in this area will saves millions of lives and billions of dollars. Think of the massive economies that currently exist because of drunk (or drugged) driving. The trial lawyers, insurance, body shops, courts, etc. Not to mention the massive disruption and opportunity cost of the loss of life. All of that human potential and finance can go into something more productive. All of that death and destruction could become a distant memory when full self driving becomes mainstream. I’m astonished at the progress made towards autonomous vehicles just in the last decade. And tech just keeps getting smaller and smarter. It is only a matter of time until we see aviation-level safety benefits from vehicle autonomy.

    1. I’m not being cynical. I’m just calculating how far we have to go. I’ve no doubt that a self driving car is possible, but like flying cars, they aren’t as simple as people are thinking.

  4. I’ll look forward to autonomous vehicles on roadways AFTER they perfect autonomous slow agricultural tractors used in controlled environments. Not before.

  5. These “experts” are so focused on autonomous cars as the next revolution. But it’s not… The next car revolution is designing cars from the ground up to be fully electric, and creating an infrastructure that can support most cars being electric.

    Current designs are constrained by the legacy of the internal combustion engine, which means there’s a noisy heat source that must to be separated from passengers, a large tank of hazardous liquid fuel to feed engine, centralized power production with bulky mechanical power train, etc. Why does a Tesla look like it could be a gasoline-powered car? Because they’re designed by automotive experts, and that’s what customers expect.

    Apple has a history of giving customers what they don’t know they want, until they see it. I think Car will be designed as if the gas-powered car never existed. Full automation comes much later. First, we need a car platform that can eventually become safely autonomous, more precisely and flexibly controllable, NOT the current holdover designs. It’s like personal computers having a command line interface (like MS-DOS C:/ prompt) because experts who designed them used it with mainframe computers. Then Macintosh came along… Apple will unleash equivalent innovations with electric car design.

    Apple must also help create an infrastructure that can support everyone switching to Car. If cars became fully electric, the current power grid and distribution system could not support it. The power (for charging) must come from somewhere. Currently, it comes from most cars carrying around their own power generator and fuel. Apple will invest its accumulated cash fortune into building an infrastructure to support Car.

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