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Talk of autonomous vehicles has been around for quite a while, but cars still don’t drive themselves.

The 6 levels of autonomy range from no assistance at level 0 to full driving capability at level 5. Adaptive cruise control and lane assist at level 1 is fairly standard on most new cars now. More advanced capabilities at level 2 enable the car to control steering and speed but the driver still has to be able to take control. Level 3 means that the car can take full control in very specific conditions and level 4 enables the car to be fully driverless albeit within a predefined virtual geofenced perimeter inside a real-world geographic area.

Artificial Intelligence is a fast-moving field and yet the self-driving vehicle has not materialised as rapidly as predicted just a few years ago. Besides the operational control of the vehicle, predicting the behaviour of humans and understanding social interactions has proved challenging. Not to mention the cost of the developing technology.

Then there is regulation. A unified, codified definition of self-driving is required which can then be used to set safety standards which leads, in turn, to problematic liability concerns. And all this before the majority of the public is even convinced that autonomous vehicles really work.

The motoring industry appears to be relatively optimistic that level 4 autonomy could materialise a few years hence, albeit in specific places only. No real estimates for the arrival of level 5 are apparent though some believe it could still be decades away.

Commercial vehicles are more likely to be the first adopters of self-driving technology. For example, buses and freight on regular routes, or driverless taxis in well- plotted, mapped cities.

Inevitably, progress will prevail just as it did with planes, trains, and automobiles. Autonomous vehicles will eventually herald the predicted seismic shift in transportation. Whether cars owned by households and individuals become obsolete remains to be seen. Just not anytime soon.


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