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Ford’s new chief executive, Jim Hackett has played down the possibility of robotised autonomous vehicles by 2021. “If you think about a vehicle that can drive anywhere, anytime, in any circumstance, cold, rain — that’s longer than 2021,” said Hackett. He feels that the actual pace of development for autonomous cars is being overhyped by the media and some automakers. In a reference to his predecessor Mark Fields’ promise of fully self-driving taxis by 2021, he replied by saying, “Level 5 systems are not likely to be ready in that timeframe.”

President and Chief Executive Officer, Ford Motor Company

So where is the problem since most carmakers are committing huge resources and some are even ready to join rivals in co-developing autonomous cars. The ground reality is that there’s confusion in the definition between Level 4 and Level 5 systems. The latter will essentially be capable of driving without requiring a human driver to constantly pay attention, but perhaps only in certain well-mapped cities or in favourable weather conditions.

As a result of these conditional applications, for now, it can be safely assumed that most automakers will take a cautious approach in transitioning from current Level 3 cars to more advanced level. Only Tesla has claimed so far that its current production cars are already equipped with the necessary hardware to operate fully autonomously, but the claim downplays the significant software challenges that the entire industry still faces in the race to Level 5. Some of the more conservative players say they need more time and suggest 2030 is a more realistic window for Level 5 cars hitting roads.

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