With all the exciting stories in the media these days about self-driving, hands-free and automated driving cars, it naturally begs a question for us barflies: when can we start using them to take us safely home after a night of drinking?
The answer is that robot cars won’t be driving you home from the bars anytime soon.
This is the answer from automotive experts I consulted on the subject. While the technology and technical talk are way above my head, all I see on news reports is cars driving people and even futuristic videos where drivers are basically passengers, chilling in the backseat. Heck, I would have a cocktail in my hand!
Unfortunately, this is all Jestons stuff for now and will be in the foreseeable future, according to these experts. One, esteemed automotive journalist Mark Vaughn of AutoWeek, even went as far as to say “for the most part we’ll have Uber and Lyft with real human drivers behind the wheel for the rest of our lives.”
But what about all those news reports that make it seem like this technology is as close away as your neighborhood bar?
“The mainstream media still doesn’t understand how far out it is,” Vaughn said.
The reason, for you techies out there, has to do with different levels of autonomy. To get to the point of your car driving you home from the bar (or a concert, wine/beer festival, your girlfriend’s house after you’ve had a big fight and suddenly are forced to leave her place because you said something stupid after too many drinks, that kind of thing) we need to be at Level 5 autonomy.
Right now, we’re at Level 2. And in a very limited way, too.
So how soon will it be until we get to the magical Level 5?
“It is at least 20-30 years away,” said James Hills, an automotive blogger for ManTripping.com. “This is as much because we need to redesign roads, laws, and get chaotic human drivers off the roads.
“However, systems such as Super Cruise” are here today and can operate common tasks like lane centering, following curves around roads, even switching lanes safely without having your hands on the wheel. This is wonderful for use on long road trips and perhaps for use in traffic while commuting. However, the human is still the driver and is being monitored for attention to the road through a variety of sensors.
“This is what we call Level 2 self driving and Tesla’s Autopilot is at the same level though tweaked to be a bit less restrictive than Super Cruise.”
AutoWeek’s Vaughn added, “I think you can get some Level 3 autonomy where you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel in very limited settings like on empty, limited-access interstates. Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy is at least 30 years out, however.”
So keep those Lyft and Uber apps on your smartphone for now and well into the future.
PubClub.com further addresses this technology and its current limitations in a separate article that asks the question whether or not autonomy cars will spell the end of the rideshare apps.