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.
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.
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.