Driverless Cars: What to Expect in 2018

An announcement made by Waymo in November may serve as the single story that best sums up the year 2017 in self-driving car news.

Waymo revealed that, in 2018, it would launch a ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area using autonomous vehicles without human operators on-board. It would be the first company to do so anywhere, and Waymo wasn’t shy in declaring wider implications for the launch of the service.

“With Waymo in the driver’s seat, we can reimagine many different types of transportation, from ride-hailing and logistics, to public transport and personal vehicles, too,” the company proclaimed. “We’ve been exploring each of these areas, with a focus on shared mobility.”

Undoubtedly, 2017 was an exciting year for news surrounding the driverless car. Companies took a major step away from the theoretical and into the concrete, with the announcement of new self-driving projects with real timelines attached to them. So if 2017 was a year of telling for AV developers, 2018 will be a year of showing, according to Roberto Baldwin at Engadget.

“2017 was all about the AI hype,” Baldwin wrote. “In 2018, companies are going to have to start delivering on their promises to make self-driving cars a reality. Because, eventually, our lives will depend on it.”

Entitled “Fragmentation in self-driving cars will eventually be a problem,” Baldwin’s piece is a meditation on the state of the driverless vehicle industry as the calendar turns. Baldwin believes that technological differentiation from one developer to the next could lead to a confusing and ineffective autonomous landscape.

“At some point, autonomous cars will be on the road and if there isn’t a federally regulated standard governing how these vehicles interact with the world, there will be chaos as consumers, cities and automakers with competing systems follow slightly different rules,” he writes. “For example, if every vehicle treated an intersection differently, the resulting chaos would be no better than when humans are behind the wheel.”

But that isn’t to say that governments should leap in with a series of tightly worded regulations prescribing industry best practices and laws that all cities must follow.

For the time being, the AV industry’s greatest strength is its diversity. Since anyone is yet to perfect driverless car technology, we have no idea where the game-changing innovations will come from. Competition among major automakers, tech companies and startups is the driving force behind the eventual establishment of industry standards. And as Nvidia senior director of automotive Danny Shapiro told Engadget, overly strict government regulation could stop that innovation in its tracks.

“The autonomous vehicle industry is just getting started, and it’s going to be decades and decades of development,” Shapiro said.

Indeed, keeping an eye on the long game of the driverless car space is the single best perspective for evaluating progress. But as 2018 progresses, industry competition figures to yield a series of exciting new developments for autonomous technology and business structures.

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