2020 is Almost Over. Where’s My Self-Driving Car?

image credit: Motor Authority

published by Chand Bellur
November 6, 2020 at 12:35 p.m.

  • Bold predictions for self-driving car technology claimed that vehicles would be available for sale by 2020.
  • 2020 is almost over, and no major car manufacturer or technology company offers autonomous vehicles.
  • Several car manufacturers offer cars that are “almost” self-driving.
  • Autonomous trucks, with human supervision, have been transporting goods along the I10 corridor between Los Angeles and Phoenix.
  • Tech companies often present an optimistic future outlook to boost stock performance.

2020 is Almost Over, and We Still Don’t Have Self-Driving Cars

Around 2015, the media buzzed with excitement over self-driving cars. The world was still pulling out of the Great Recession, with the tech-heavy NASDAQ receding after five years of gradual improvement.

Virtually every media outlet claimed self-driving cars were in development by Apple, Google, Tesla, Ford, GM, and myriad other manufacturers. The tech media went so far as to say Apple was working on “Project Titan” — a self-driving car set to debut in 2020.

Appledystopia took a different view. The media hyped self-driving cars, and I called this correctly. The notion that Apple would have a self-driving car for sale by 2020 was ludicrous. The company can’t even create a product to replace the iPhone, which is rapidly losing demand.

Apart from a few human-supervised autonomous trucks, self-driving cars are not yet a reality. The technology will arrive; however, such complex technology takes years to develop and perhaps longer to prove its safety and efficacy. The greater question is: did tech journalists misinform the public for the sake of clickbait or to boost tech stocks?

Self-Driving Car Articles As Clickbait

Around the early spring of 2015, tech publishers put out a trove of articles celebrating self-driving cars. The articles, written by “journalists” who have never worked in tech, offered optimistic visions of the future. Self-driving cars would be on the road by 2020. Apple was even working on their own vehicle that would ship in 2020. It’s early November 2020, I live in the Silicon Valley, and I still have yet to see a self-driving car on the road.

Tech publications are known for exaggerating reality for the sake of readership. The more outrageous the claims, the more eyeballs they receive. As more tech companies wrote about self-driving cars, public interest increased. Addressing trending news, publishers created more content about autonomous vehicles. The feedback loop continued until people became bored, eventually fizzling out.

Both social media and search engines give people more of what they want. Be it a political movement, social media trend, or new, emerging technology, if people are interested, the media gives them more and more until they reach fatigue.

While it’s easy to see how the self-driving car craze of 2015 emerged on its own, there’s a more nefarious reality. It’s possible that tech companies wrote about self-driving cars to boost stock.

Autonomous Vehicle News Boosts Stock Prices

While there are many fundamentals involved in stock valuation, a corporation’s perceived future value is paramount these days. Corporations like Amazon don’t turn a profit, yet their stock soars on future optimism. Public relations and marketing efforts aim to convince the public that breakthrough technology will yield higher stock prices in the future.

After years of recovering from the Great Recession, early 2015 saw a retreat in the tech-heavy NASDAQ. A public relations push from tech corporations could have led to a rise in autonomous vehicle articles. The effort may have helped boost the stock of some corporations.

There Are Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

As with most emerging technologies, new features make their way into products. Over time, there’s a great leap forward, and a whole new category of products is born.

Smartphones are a perfect example of this evolution. Before the iPhone, LG’s Prada served as an advanced feature phone. Although it paled in comparison to the first iPhone, it provided inspiration and direction essential for creating the first true smartphones.

Similarly, autonomous vehicles are getting their start as features in human-driven automobiles. Instead of “self-driving”, the term “autopilot” describes the vehicles’ semi-autonomous nature. Think of it more like cruise control on steroids than autonomous driving.

Automotive experts rank levels of autonomous driving from zero to five. The lowest level of automation indicates a vehicle that doesn’t even have cruise control. Level 1 features cruise control, which is relatively old technology. For 2020 and 2021, most automakers are focusing on level 2, which allows for control over steering, braking, and velocity.

The second level of automated driving enables some impressive technologies. Automatic lane centering can steer a drifting driver back on course. Some autonomous systems even allow for complete control, but only on select routes. We’ve come a long way; however, we’re not at the point where we can take a nap and let the car drive for us.

When Will We Have Truly Autonomous Cars?

While it’s not clear when consumers can purchase self-driving cars, this reality is not far off. Right now, autonomous trucks are delivering goods along the I10 corridor, albeit with human supervision. Level 2 automation in modern cars helps prevent accidents and makes it easier to drive.

My educated guess is that the first autonomous cars will be available to consumers within the next 5 to 10 years. Lawmakers must draft new regulations for autonomous vehicles. When corporations are involved, change usually happens rapidly. The technology must also be proven safe.

Make no mistake, self-driving cars will become a reality. I’m trying to keep my current vehicle in good condition, hoping my next automobile will be autonomous. When autonomous cars arrive, we can look forward to being more productive while moving along on roads and highways made safer by technology.

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