Autonomous Vehicles

What Gartner Teaches Us About the Autonomous Vehicle

Every year Gartner Inc., an information technology advisory, publishes its Emerging Technology Hype Cycle. This construction arranges emerging technologies on a time spectrum of five phases from “Innovation Trigger” to the “Plateau of Productivity”. Gartner is a more telling seer than most for the progress of robotic vehicle technology.

© Gartner, Inc.

The Autonomous Vehicle first appeared on Gartner’s 2010 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle about 40 percent of the way up the Positive Hype slope toward the Peak of Inflated Expectations. You may recall that in 2010 self-driving hype was all about Sebastian Thrun winning the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) challenge, retellings of the General Motors exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair, and how many thousands of lives robotic vehicles could save since most accidents are caused by human error.

While unaccountably skipping 2011, from 2012 to 2014 Gartner placed the Autonomous Vehicle on the Positive Hype slope at about 55 percent, 60 percent and 90 percent respectively as it climbed toward the Peak of Expectations, which it reached in July 2015.

During its 2011 absence from the Cycle, Gartner’s prediction about the Autonomous Vehicle went from “more than ten years from mainstream adoption” in 2010 to “Plateau of Productivity will be reached in 5 to 10 years”, where it remained unchanged for four years. A notable advance in 24 months.

The Trough of Disillusionment: The Autonomous Vehicle

A lot of excitement (and hype) has indeed built since 2010, but as with all technologies studied by Gartner, the Autonomous Vehicle is now inescapably poised to fall to the Trough of Disillusionment and recover on the Slope of Enlightenment before it reaches the Plateau of Productivity sometime after 2020.

The impending slide through Negative Hype and into the Trough of Disillusionment has started. It turns out that the presumed, slow feature creep through 20 or 30 lucrative years of advanced driver assistance systems to eventually reach widespread uptake of SAE’s (Society of Automotive Engineers) level five autonomy creates several intermediate barriers.

One of these many barriers is that humans generally come to rely on assistive technologies very quickly and incautiously. The reliability with which drivers will remain attentive while using intermediate levels of semi-autonomy, or be able to rapidly re-focus their attention in the event the vehicle requests oversight is very challenging. Driving becomes the distraction.

Near term consumer access to autonomous vehicles implies either mixing them with non-autonomous ones on the same roadway, setting up separate lanes and safe-havens at great expense, or as Google (and now reportedly, Ford) has elected, jumping immediately to fully autonomous, level 5 vehicles skipping the intermediate levels altogether.

Of course fully autonomous vehicles would suffer severe access limitations in their first decade or so. The owner of an autonomous vehicle would be able to use it only on fully qualified lanes and areas which would not likely appear quickly as the infrastructure funding crisis grinds on. Access-anxiety would be far worse than the range-anxiety that has afflicted early EV (Electric Vehicle) adoption.

© Gartner, Inc.

The Slope of Enlightenment: The Autonomous Vehicle

Happily, there is a solution to this. Just as the mounting number of barriers to the near term household market for fully autonomous vehicles is becoming apparent, the application of robotic vehicles to public transit is gathering interest.

The early use of robotics for transit applications on constrained routes and limited networks via government-franchised, private investment could address many of the obvious barriers to early, access-limited, self-driving vehicles in the driveways of household consumers.

The path to the frequently predicted smart urban future of any-time, on-call, mobility on demand will be easier to traverse if this route is taken. This is how the Plateau of Productivity for autonomous vehicles could indeed be reached in the 5 to 10 years that Gartner predicts.

But first, more urban leaders need to stop dithering in the face of the AV technology hype and step up to implementing what is feasible right now.

What do you think about Gartner’s prediction? Do you think autonomous vehicles could reach production stage within the next 5 to 10 years? Share your opinions in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


  • Tyler Folsom
    14. January 2016 at 21:32

    The solution is in the present, not in the future. Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is operational today. These are self-driving road vehicles on a reserved guideway with a limited number of destinations. We can get over the chicken-and-egg problem of no automated lanes because no automated vehicles and no automated vehicles because no automated lanes. Bring automation into a city as a public transit system. The government can acquire the automated lanes and a large number of public automated vehicles at the same time. It would probably cost less than traditional public transit, and provide better service.

  • John Niles
    15. January 2016 at 11:11

    Thanks to Dr. Tyler Folsom for the comment. He expanded the concept of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) quite well in his comprehensive 2012 essay for IEEE at : “An autonomous road vehicle can be operated as a rail-less PRT.” Demonstrating vehicle automation without rails is now more possible than ever with vehicles able to follow digital maps and to move forward while avoiding collisions because of sensors and computerized control of speed, steering, and braking.

    I hope we can understand Tyler’s comment as a statement of agreement with our point that government authorities in charge of public transit can and should take steps now to deploy automated vehicles in controlled environments. At low speeds, the guideway for rail-less PRT need not be completely exclusive.

    The business model for sustainability as the scale of operations grows for early Level 5 roll outs is to show operational cost efficiency and high quality service. We agree with Tyler that this path is “probably” possible, though we think it’s not easy. The approach in our essay needs seed funding to be implemented, which will be easier to obtain as time passes and return on investment from the initiative of pioneers becomes visible from their growing experience.

  • Paul Minett
    11. February 2016 at 3:32

    Firstly, fantastic post to bring an interesting perspective (Gartner’s) to a very hyped field. Thanks.

    Secondly, can we have a link to the Gartner pages because they are difficult to read as shown above.

    Thirdly, interesting that Move Forward disavows the opinions in the article.

    Finally, to the meat of the item, the suggestion that public transport should be the early adopter, perhaps with dedicated laneways (or perhaps not). I raise a question about the practicality of this idea, given the nature of the organisations that usually take responsibility for public transport. They generally have a charter that is about providing or operating public transport, not about solving transportation issues; and they generally have huge constraints in the form of the bus drivers unions. I suggest that a report card for all jurisdictions, comparing them on their degrees of freedom to move in the direction suggested in the post, would be a useful contribution to the discussion.

    I don’t know if it qualifies, but the Vancouver, Canada Sky Train implementation that has driverless train cars has seemed to me to be a beacon for a number of years – do labor disputes hold them up? Why have there not been hundreds of cities following on with the same technology?

  • Grush Niles
    14. February 2016 at 14:27

    Paul, thank your for the compliment.

    Here is the site that aggregated the four Gartner years:

    Please be unconcerned that Move Forward disavows our opinion, this seems to be more policy oriented than about our ideas, per se. And if it were about our ideas that would be even better. *New Mobility* ideas are becoming increasingly positional with each of us *knowing* exactly how the world must turn out.

    Meatwise, you (sadly) may be right that public transport will not be the change agent we espouse for the reasons you list. If you are right, then public transport in 20 years will look like the taxi industry does today. Disrupted, Uberized, decimated, and dismantled. Our *Transit Leap* approach is a counter to that. Disrupted, expanded, optimized and unuberized. We’d ask which way you think this might go, but fear your answer; many have already commented to us that public transport won’t step up.

    Nonetheless, we think a few will – especially in the EU – and maybe, just maybe, a few others will copy them. In the end what matters more that municipal ownership is that fleets be clean and optimized (including ride sharing), pricing is fair, and vehicles are safe and available with very short waits.


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