Experts are still in doubt: many think level 5 driving will never happen. Have we lost confidence in our engineering prowess?
In 2021, we conducted a survey revealing that most experts expected level 5 autonomous driving (a fully automated car that no longer requires a steering wheel) to become available at the earliest by 2025 (Self-Driving Cars Survey: When Are They REALLY Coming?). The findings were sobering, as most participants did not expect self-driving cars to materialize before 2030, with 21% convinced that they might never become a reality.
Fast forward to September 2023, in our recent survey on LinkedIn (see LinkedIn LINK), we have received even more concerning results.
Considering that almost all participants were experts in their respective fields, particularly in the automotive industry, the results tell a remarkable tale. None of our respondents anticipate a level 5 self-driving car becoming available by 2027. At the same time, 29% of respondents suggest that 2030 is a more plausible timeline, and 33% never expect a fully autonomous car to materialize. Ever.
The feedback from our experts paints an unsettling picture, especially in light of recent developments where robotaxis is already being field-tested in the USA and globally. That might suggest that level 5 driving seems close, yet the current robotaxis, limited to specific geo-fenced areas, is not level 5-capable. The leab from level 4 to level 5 seems the most challenging. Exemplifying the phrase ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good,’ achieving level 5 could take epic ages.
Nevertheless, never seems to be too pessimistic.
Perhaps the reason for such skepticism could be found in enthusiasts like Elon Musk’s progressively optimistic opinions about self-driving.
- In 2015, Elon Musk stated that Tesla cars would be entirely self-driving in two years or less.
- In a 2016 tweet, Musk stated that a Tesla car could drive itself across the United States “by next year.”
- In December 2020, Musk said he was “extremely confident” that Tesla vehicles would reach level 5 (full autonomy) within a year.
- In January 2021, during Tesla’s earnings call, Musk expressed his belief that Tesla would achieve Level 5 autonomy by the end of the year.
- In July 2023, Musk predicted that Tesla is “very close to achieving full self-driving without human supervision” and should realize fully autonomous vehicles at some point “later this year.”
While Musk’s PR statements should not undermine his remarkable achievements—the legacy automotive executives once sneered at him until Tesla became a globally successful leader in the EV race—such PR stunts have not increased confidence in the technology. Maybe that’s one reason why many of us no longer believe that level 5 autonomy is coming anytime soon.
We will continue to monitor this space closely and plan to conduct a follow-up survey next year to see if there are any shifts in perception.
I am a project manager (Project Manager Professional, PMP), a Project Coach, a management consultant, and a book author. I have worked in the software industry since 1992 and as a manager consultant since 1998. Please visit my United Mentors home page for more details. Contact me on LinkedIn for direct feedback on my articles.