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January 17, 2024

4 min read

Are we finally on the road to AV deployment?

The press surrounding autonomous vehicles (AVs) over the past few years has been less than savoury, to put it one way. From Teslas catching on fire or malfunctioning to fatal crashes, the software driving AVs still has some way to go before it can be deployed en masse – and that’s before even considering if it will be accepted by consumers in the face of all these disasters.

But when exactly will AVs be ready, if ever? This is hardly a new question. Experts have seemingly been promising it’s just a certain number of years away every few years. So, is this another case of more promised tech forever being just ‘on the horizon’ or a minority of bad press outweighing the positives and obfuscating real progress?

The AV market is worth an estimated US$42.4 million already, which McKinsey forecasts will rise to US$300-400 billion by 2035. Considering the potential market size and already sizeable consumer interest, it’s a question that weighs heavily on many investors’ minds. Through Canopy, our subject matter experts explore whether we’ll finally see mass adoption soon and what obstacles remain.

Future prospects

Both experts – Nick Casas, the vice president of sales at Enchanted Rock, and Chandrasekar Subramanian, who specialises in automotives and sustainable transport – are upbeat about AV’s prospects this time around.

Casas reckons we’ll see mass roll-out in about three to five years. There is still some way to go on both the demand and supply sides, he remarks. “Realistically, part of it is adoption, some of it is deployment, some of it is financial reasons, like having enough to actually deploy as well as strategic investors.” 

And while there has been bad press, Subramanian thinks we need to put it into perspective. Despite the high-profile accidents prompting questions around safety, “it is important to note that these accidents have been relatively rare and vast majority of AVs have been driven without any accident.” 

Given that bad news always outweighs the positive in the public’s perception, this should prompt the need for more transparency among carmakers specialising in AVs. On this point, Subramanian adds: “Developers need to be transparent about both the risk and the limitations of AV technology so that they can be taken to the public for feedback.” 

What’s left to overcome?

One stumbling block for AVs is having the correct road infrastructure, as some software relies on road paint markings in order for the car to ‘see’ where it’s going. However, this just means that “metropolitan areas will definitely have a lot more of the consumer AV deployment”, Casas says, pointing to cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which suffer from congestion and marred air quality. “Those are huge opportunities for autonomous in the sense that you'll have more adoption, more federal and state funding backing it,” he explains.

This restriction could also be a blessing in disguise, so to speak. If the use cases are focused to begin with, it allows for success stories to proliferate, leading to an upward spiral and inspiring other city or regional authorities to act. In fact, many countries are already looking into – and even already using – AVs for public transport in urban areas. The world’s first service has been running in Edinburgh since May this year, while Geneva, Oslo and Kronach had already started testing routes in January, according to the World Economic Forum.

Looking ahead

As a best-case scenario, Casas reckons that AVs could make up 20% of the market in five years’ time. However, before we get to this point, Subramanian says, a number of things need to happen first. “The best-case scenario would require a number of factors like comprehensive government regulations … and then new infrastructure.” This shift is already under way, with countries like China, the UK and the US already regulating AVs or thinking about doing so.

Added to these factors is the importance of educating the public. “There's a lot of education that needs to come out. There's a lot of pilots, there's a lot of white papers, there's a lot of positive influence … that needs to be shown to the masses. I think larger corporations understand that and they're taking their time.”

 

It’s not as if there still aren’t numerous obstacles still to be overcome – from adequate infrastructure to bringing costs down and public acceptance to company funding. But it’s more the fact that they now seem surmountable or have just changed the goalposts on how it will roll out. Either way, it seems like we are finally closer to the reality of fully autonomous driving.

 

 

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