Understanding where we are in the pursuit of self-driving cars can be as confusing as understanding where we are in the pursuit of AI. Over the past few years, the flood of companies entering the space and the constant news updates have made it seem as if fully autonomous vehicles are just barely out of reach. The past couple weeks have been no different: Uber announced a new CEO and $1 billion investment for its self-driving unit, Waymo launched a ride-hailing app to open up its service to more riders in Phoenix, and Tesla unveiled a new custom AI chip that promises to unlock full autonomy.
But driverless vehicles have stayed in beta, and carmakers have wildly differing estimates of how many years we still have to go. In early April, Ford CEO Jim Hackett expressed a conservative stance, admitting that the company had initially “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.” It still plans to launch its first self-driving fleet in 2021, but with significantly dialed-back capabilities. In contrast, Tesla’s chief, Elon Musk, bullishly claimed that self-driving technology will likely be safer than human intervention in cars by 2020. “I’d be shocked if it’s not next year at the latest,” he said.