Many carmakers have softened their stances on driverless technology because they’re not sure if the tech is quite ready for the mainstream.
Financial Times reported that the mood about driverless cars has been noticeably different at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and that some companies that had previously touted the technology seem less eager to make the transition.
For example, as recently as two years ago, Audi was pushing the launch of its first car that would take full control away from the driver, only asking for assistance when the car ran into a problem that was too complex for it to handle. This level of autonomy is known as Level 3. A fully autonomous vehicle would be a level 5, the highest level.
The problem is that regulators are worried about the legality of such a system, because the nuances of whether it can work in an emergency are questionable. Consequently, Audi has never used the software in the U.S.
Part of the concern is whether a driver will be ready to take the wheel at a moment’s notice when the car requests it, and also the question of who will be responsible if something goes wrong.
Major car manufacturers like Ford, Toyota and Volvo say they’re skeptical about Level 3 tech, and say it’s safer to wait for better technology that wouldn’t require human intervention.
Now, carmakers are shifting to less exciting terrain: the education and regulation of the new technology. Instead of bragging about shiny new driverless cars, Audi unveiled that it was one of several carmakers that were part of a new industry group called Pave. The aim of the group is to bring concrete advances to road safety by educating policymakers about how the “technical challenges of creating driverless vehicles are solvable,” according to Audi’s North American President of Operations Mark Del Rosso.
Mike Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner, said that while the technology is ready, policy obviously is not. “The regulatory framework is a problem far more in need of ironing out than any of these systems,” he said. “There will have to be some clarity about what is legal and what isn’t.”