In addition, cameras and sensors all too often are placed in vulnerable positions, such as inside the grille or behind the front bumper.
“Even in a minor fender bender, you’ve got the opportunity to break or at least misalign a radar sensor,” Carlson says.
LOOKING AHEAD. The natural endpoint to the confluence of ADAS technology is the self-driving vehicle, which automakers say could be on the road by 2020. Even if they arrive in 6 years, Wallace says, the first self-driving vehicles likely would self-drive only under certain conditions, such as on straight highways or in minimal traffic. He says you still would have to be in control the rest of the time.
Regulatory agencies also have to weigh in before self-driving vehicles arrive. Many of the technologies that are in the works involve vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems that would allow vehicles to interact with each other and adapt to traffic and weather conditions. As of press time, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t decided on regulations for these systems, which will affect how manufacturers implement the technology.
Nevertheless, manufacturers won’t wait for regulation to begin their push toward the self-driving vehicle. Manufacturers, industry groups and Department of Transportation are testing connected-vehicle technologies, which Nelson says we can expect to see in about 8 years. In February 2014, NHTSA announced that it wants a standard for vehicle-to-vehicle communication in place by 2016. Nelson estimates that it will take at least 10 more years before the majority of vehicles that are on the road contain such technology, which means that the full effect likely won’t be known for at least 20 years.
Roads also will have to be adapted. Wallace predicts that high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, which also are known as car pool lanes, will start to become self-driving-vehicle lanes, although that might not be commonplace until 2050.
In other words, the road ahead to a fully self-driving vehicle is truly a long one.
John R. Platt is a freelance writer who covers technological advancements for a variety of publications. His articles have appeared in Scientific American and Today’s Engineer.