Here’s Johnny – but when?
Feb 16, 2018 by Jonathan Watson



“Self-driving cars are coming; there will be fully autonomous cars on the roads in the US in 2018, and adoption will just take off from there,” says one recent report.

Not too long, then, until driverless cars are zooming around everywhere, like the Johnny Cabs in the 1990 sci-fi classic Total Recall. Ford claims it could have a “fully autonomous vehicle” by 2021, while the UK’s finance minister Philip Hammond reckons “fully driverless cars” will hit Britain’s roads the same year.

When it unveiled its acquisition of driverless tech firm Mobileye last year, Intel said the autonomous vehicle market could be worth $70 billion by 2030.

While there can be different degrees of “autonomous”, depending on the hardware and the software involved, the technology is undoubtedly progressing. But not everyone is quite as optimistic about when meaningful deployments will happen.

“I would say much later [than 2021] for a fully automated vehicle that can take me from A to B and I do not have to intervene,” says Professor Natasha Merat of Leeds University in the UK. She is cited in a report published this week by the transport committee of local government body the London Assembly.

“I am thinking more like 2030 to 2040 because the issues are around acceptability, trust, uptake, affordability, infrastructure availability, connectivity and so on.”

By connectivity, we can assume she means 5G, which BMW says is crucial if driverless cars are to thrive. Everyone in the spectrum management community knows how much work remains to be done there.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the London Assembly’s report is that the first driverless cars are expected to arrive in urban areas like London. 5G coverage won’t be good enough for them anywhere else.

If even Londoners think driverless cars won’t be a reality until the decade after next, how long will they take to emerge outside the big cities?

The Philip K. Dick story on which Total Recall is based is set in the “not too distant future,” but the film is set in 2084. Which will it be?