They may not look like neon silver bean-eggs like the Mercedes F 015 concept, but the autonomous cars are coming, and they're coming soon. How soon? If Bosch gets their way, then cars will have full autopilot by 2025.
This matters because Germany's Robert Bosch GmbH happens to be the largest automotive parts supplier in the world. And at the recent Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, they outlined their four-part plan to roll out the technology automakers will need to have full autonomous driving 10 years from now.
Here's how this will play out, according to Automotive News:
Integrated highway assist: In 2017, the vehicle would travel up to 75 mph on the highway, remaining within its lane, while the motorist keeps his eyes on the road.
Highway assist: In 2018, the vehicle would move at high speeds on the highway, and would change lanes with the driver's approval. The motorist would keep his eyes on the road.
Highway pilot: By 2020, the vehicle would maneuver itself on the highway while the motorist attends to other tasks, such as reading, chatting with passengers, working on his computer, etc. The motorist would be prepared to take over quickly, if necessary. If the motorist is unable to do so, the car would pull over and stop itself.
Auto pilot: Around 2025, the vehicle would drive itself from door to door without the motorist's intervention.
I'm a little more inclined to believe suppliers like Bosch when they make timetables like this, since they base their business around actual contracts for parts, not just nebulous ideas that look cool at auto shows and may never happen. Bosch already has contracts for the first two things on that list; the second isn't ready for production quite yet.
A lot of this is close to what we already have on today's cars, especially luxury vehicles from Mercedes, Infiniti, Cadillac, Tesla and others. Lane-keeping, auto braking and radar cruise control are already popular options on those cars. Put them together and you see where things are going.
Of course, we still have to sort out all the legal and insurance angles when it comes to autonomous cars — like who's at fault when your driverless S-Class decides to go all Ultron on our weak, fleshy asses — and the technology will almost certainly be ready before that happens. But it seems realistic to expect automakers to start building cars that drive themselves within a decade or so.
Maybe a human driver will be the ultimate option on future cars.