Imagine it: A vehicle pulls up to your doorstep, picks you up and whisks you to your destination without your so much as having to place your hands on the steering wheel. This is one of the clearest dreams of self-driving cars. Taking manual controls out of the equation, self-driving cars offer superior navigation and driving capabilities, allowing passengers to relax and let the car handle everything.
What’s Happening Now
Google demonstrated this technology back in 2015 with a prototype vehicle. The vehicle simply featured large “go” and “stop” buttons in place of a steering wheel or brakes. The car guided the user to their destination through a futuristic combination of lasers, radars, cameras and maps. While this technology is still in its infancy, self-driving cars hold the potential to revolutionize transportation as we know it — including the car itself. Platforms like WebRTC are poised to help power the machine vision and artificial intelligence tools built into autonomous vehicles.
Market Size: Gartner Perspective
The market for self-driving cars is still quite young, but it’s predicted to become a $126.8 billion industry by 2027. There’s plenty of room to grow: Save for a handful of implementations like Tesla’s autopilot mode — which offers limited self-driving capabilities such as guided steering — fully autonomous vehicles are still several years away.
In fact, technology researcher Gartner believes the opportunities for autonomous vehicles to take off won’t be possible until 5G technology becomes widely used. Gartner anticipates autonomous vehicles will upload over 1 terabyte of vehicle and sensor data to the cloud every month, requiring incredible amounts of bandwidth and processing power. 5G technology may be 10 times more efficient than 4G, enabling platforms like WebRTC to offer high-quality communications in real time with little to no latency.
What It’s Used For
Self-driving cars require tremendous amounts of data and processing power. A car communicates with other vehicles and the outside world to determine its location, its speed and the objects around it. This is a perfect avenue for the introduction of WebRTC. WebRTC enables easy information exchange through data transfers, audio, and video.
Safety is the number one issue surrounding autonomous vehicles. Sadly, self-driving cars are already responsible for multiple accidents and pedestrian deaths. While the causes of many of these accidents remain under investigation or even point to the human operator's being at fault, it remains clear that even limited autonomous technology is not quite ready for prime time. Those fears are reflected in consumer sentiment: A 2017 Gartner survey found that 55 percent of consumers won’t even consider riding in a fully autonomous vehicle.
Where It’s Headed
Self-driving cars may currently exist, but the most significant potential for autonomous vehicles still lies in the future. The Society of Automotive Engineers has classified six different levels of autonomy for self-driving cars:
- Typical, non-autonomous cars are at Level 0, where the driver is responsible for major driving functions such as steering, accelerating and braking.
- Level 1 autonomous vehicles introduce individual systems like cruise control and lane guidance that offer limited amounts of control but need to be activated separately.
- Many of today’s self-driving cars are Level 2 autonomous, enabling automatic steering and speed control without driver intervention. Level 2 still requires a driver to be present and alert.
- Vehicles at Level 3, like Google’s Waymo driverless car project, have full autonomous capabilities that revert to a human driver if the car is unable to perform certain duties.
- On the horizon, Level 4 vehicles will operate without the need for driver intervention. If the autonomous systems stop working, the vehicle will simply stop and allow a human driver to take manual control.
- The highest level of vehicle automation is Level 5, which remains many years away. Level 5 vehicles will be built to operate autonomously without human control.