This is a question on every road user’s mind. When are driverless cars going to take over our roads? Well, it’s not clear when, but big car manufacturers and software developers are tirelessly experimenting with the concept of fully autonomous vehicles. Carmakers, most notably Tesla, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, and Ford have already showcased some features of semi-autonomous technology in some of their models. What seemed like the makings of science fiction only a few years ago might soon become a reality as manufacturers head into what they have dubbed Level 3 driverless technology.

Why is it taking so long?

Driverless technology is nothing new; it has been around for years and has given us self-parking cars, advanced cruise control and countless other automated industry advancements. So you might think that the recent leaps in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning should have led to fully autonomous cars by now. But there is still lots to be done before vehicles can drive themselves.

The current level of technology is still not refined enough to take on complicated driving. In fact, some carmakers are quite sceptical and insist on waiting for better automation technology before trying out the concept. For instance, developers need to equip the vehicle with a near-human judgment for safe road use around cities and suburbs. The vehicle should be able to make moral decisions, for example during an accident. As technically challenging as that is, this issue is expected to spark a heated social debate in the future.

It’s not exactly clear what economic and social impacts autonomous transport will have on a global scale. Will this technology make the roads safer, create more jobs or even automate those? as well as bring car prices and insurance down? It’s all very vague and speculative at the moment. Perhaps having clarity on these issues might create an incentive and accelerate developments.

What we can expect

Carmakers have been relentless in their pursuit of autonomous vehicles. We can expect to see new attempts at driverless cars and more advanced driving aids along the way, with cars requiring less and less human intervention. Some carmakers are shifting their attention to autonomous public transport; autonomous buses and trains are already using smart commuter roads and routes in parts of Europe, including the UK.

The truth is, driverless vehicles are on their way. The technology is not quite ripe yet, but when has that ever stopped anyone from trying?