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Realism overtakes optimism for would-be driverless car manufacturers

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The autonomous vehicle market is showing more caution in its plans for manufacturing, experts say, with estimates suggesting that large-scale implementation could take longer than expected.

Analysts calculating projected numbers of autonomous vehicles are noticing that automobile manufacturers and startups are increasingly conscious of the challenges in bringing autonomous cars onto the streets. 

Global research and advisory firm Gartner has published its latest report, in which it predicts global autonomous car penetration will reach 2.5 million by 2028. The main driver behind driverless car adoption, investment and research will still be passenger safety, Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco told E&T

Compared to Britain's number of licensed cars (an estimated 38.2 million in licensed vehicles by the end of 2018) autonomous vehicles will remain scarce through the 2020s.

Pacheco told E&T that “the number that you see [in the report] reflects a more cautious approach by the players in the industry”. 

"If you go around the autonomous industry, you will hear a lot about autonomous driving. There are very strong statements [made] by players that generates a certain arms-race. No-one wants to stay behind. We see this optimism is replaced by more realism. They are getting to grips with the factors”, he said.

The greatest challenge could be navigating new regulations; there are no regulations allowing the public to use level three autonomous vehicles at present: "Not having such regulation is a hindering factor," Pancheco said.

The cost of the hardware is also a problem: "The Lidar [technology] would be hugely expensive. The Radar and camera [technology] perhaps a bit less. You set the price point of such a vehicle at a price point which is not so enticing for the vast majority of customers out there”. Another challenge is to effectively handle edge cases: describing the scenarios where the AI at the core of autonomous vehicles fails to detect critical objects such as pedestrians. 

A study by company Allied Market Research, a global market research firm said last year that the global market for autonomous vehicles could be worth $556.7bn by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate of 39.47 per cent during that period. 

A number of areas where Pacheco sees low market entry barriers include public transport, such as a 24/7 autonomous car network. Another strong use case presents the delivery of goods. Deciding for a depot-to-depot delivery via using autonomous vehicles, could reduce the need to have a small truck driving into the city center, Pacheco added. 

In September, E&T found that one of UK’s 2030 autonomous vehicle road maps ignored the impacts of Brexit

Researchers at MIT and Toyota recently announced to have developed a system that alerts driverless cars when it is safest to merge into traffic at crossroads with obstructed views.

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