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Automated and autonomous cars: Looking under the hood of the hype

Automotive Marketing Leader, IBM Analytics

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Self-driving, driverless, automated, autonomous, flying cars are in the news—all except the flying part, that is. The past year has given us a steady stream of announcements about a quickly approaching future in which we’ll ride in self-driving cars. But if we look at the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies, autonomous vehicles were just nearing their “peak of inflated expectations” in 2014. What’s more, self-driving cars are still projected as being five to ten years out. I can imagine that the 2015 version of the cycle, due soon, could see them right at the top.

In IBM’s recently published study Automotive 2025: Industry without Borders, we interviewed 175 executives across the automotive industry. We asked them about autonomous and automated driving, breaking the issue down into five categories:

Automated: Driver required

  • Partially: The driver monitors automatic functions and is not free to perform non-driving tasks.
  • Highly: The system recognizes its limitations and calls on the driver to take control when needed. The driver may perform some non-driving tasks.
  • Fully: The system handles all situations autonomously without being monitored by the driver. The driver may perform non-driving tasks.

Autonomous: No driver required

  • Limited: Vehicles, infrastructure and the environment are controlled within certain designated driving areas.
  • Fully: All types of vehicles are integrated in normal driving conditions.

Given these five categories of automated and autonomous driving, executives rated each category’s likelihood of becoming mainstream by 2025—that is, of its being available in a significant percentage of new vehicles across all categories and segments, not only in premium cars.

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The results weren’t very encouraging, but let’s look under the hood a bit before we despair. Not every automotive executive we interviewed focused on self-driving vehicles, and not every automotive companies had made equal degrees of progress in the field. So, then, what if we were to take only the opinions of experts among the population?

Appinions, Inc., which uses web-based analytics and machine learning to determine where the greatest influence lies for a topic, recently published an influence analysis for autonomous cars. Taking interviews of engineering executives featured on Appinions’ list of the ten most influential autonomous car companies and combining them with interviews of other select executives working in this space gives us 19 interviews of experts. Now let’s see how the experts’ views differ from those of the general population.

Let’s start with automated driving, wherein drivers still must be behind the wheel, either taking over as needed or choosing to drive for themselves. Every member of the expert panel expected partially automated vehicles to be mainstream by 2025. And their opinions about highly and fully automated vehicles are also interesting. For each, the expert panel rated the likelihood of its going mainstream by 2025 significantly higher than the overall population rated it. Moreover, the graphic also shows how automotive OEMs and suppliers generally rated the likelihood that we will see highly and fully automated driving by 2025.

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However, the experts weren’t as bullish about autonomous driving. Though they rated both limited and fully autonomous driving as slightly more likely to be seen by 2025 than did the overall population, they did so by only a narrow margin. Autonomous driving is making substantial progress in testing, but it will likely need deployment in select locations free of other types of vehicles that might behave unpredictably. However, I expect that companies outside the traditional industry may bring autonomous vehicles into reality through application in limited areas.

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One of IBM’s contributions to advancing autonomous driving is its focus on moving object map analytics through Infosphere Streams. IBM Research is building a scalable and highly accurate map service experimental platform for next-generation connected vehicle and other mobile applications. What’s more, IBM is also developing real-time streaming mobility data analytics.

Automated and autonomous vehicles are coming—and the future is exciting indeed!