By 2023, there will be more than 745,000 autonomous vehicles on the road according to a new report by Gartner. 

This growth will predominately come from North America, Greater China and Western Europe as these regions become the first to introduce regulations around autonomous driving technology. 

The study, Forecast Analysis: Autonomous Vehicle Net Additions, Internet of Things, Worldwide, said 745,705 units will be on the road in four years, an increase of 137,129 units in 2018. 

In 2019, net additions will be 332,923 units. Net additions represent the annual increase in the number of vehicles equipped with hardware for autonomous driving. They do not represent sales of physical units, but rather demonstrate the net change in vehicles that are autonomous-ready.

While there are no advanced autonomous vehicles outside of the R&D stage operating on roads now, there are vehicles with limited autonomous capabilities that still rely on the supervision of a human driver. 

Software updates could enable higher levels of vehicle autonomy in coming years.

“There are currently vehicles with limited autonomous capabilities, yet they still rely on the supervision of a human driver. However, many of these vehicles have hardware, including cameras, radar, and in some cases, lidar sensors, that could support full autonomy,” said Jonathan Davenport, principal research analyst at Gartner. 

“With an over-the-air software update, these vehicles could begin to operate at higher levels of autonomy, which is why we classify them as ‘autonomous-ready.”

Today, there are no countries with active regulations that allow production-ready autonomous vehicles to operate legally, which is a major roadblock to their development and use.

However, Gartner predicts that one-fifth of the world’s countries will have active regulations that allow production-ready autonomous vehicles to operate legally by 2028, up from zero in 2019.

Davenport said, “Companies won’t deploy autonomous vehicles until it is clear they can operate legally without human supervision, as the automakers are liable for the vehicle’s actions during autonomous operation. 

“As we see more standardised regulations around the use of autonomous vehicles, production and deployment will rapidly increase, although it may be a number of years before that occurs.”

While the growth forecast for autonomous-driving-capable vehicles is fast, net additions of autonomous commercial vehicles remain low in absolute terms when compared with equivalent consumer autonomous vehicle sales.

The number of vehicles equipped with hardware that could enable autonomous driving without human supervision in the consumer segment is expected to reach 325,682 in 2020, while the commercial segment will see just 10,590. 

Public Perceptions of Safety Will Determine Growth

Gartner notes in its report vehicle-human handover safety concerns are a substantial impediment to the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. Currently, autonomous vehicle perception algorithms are still slightly less capable than human drivers.

Davenport said, “A massive amount of investment has been made into the development of autonomous vehicle perception systems, with more than 50 companies racing to develop a system that is considered safe enough for commercial use.”

Gartner predicts that it will take until 2025 before these systems demonstrate capabilities that are an order of magnitude better than human drivers.

To accelerate this innovation, technology companies are using simulation software powered by artificial intelligence to understand how vehicles would handle different situations. 

This enables companies to generate thousands of miles of vehicle test data in hours, which would take weeks to obtain through physical test driving.

Michael Ramsey, senior director analyst at Gartner said, “One of the biggest challenges ahead for the industry will be to determine when autonomous vehicles are safe enough for road use. 

“It’s difficult to create safety tests that capture the responses of vehicles in an exhaustive range of circumstances. It won’t be enough for an autonomous vehicle to be just slightly better at driving than a human. From a psychological perspective, these vehicles will need to have substantially fewer accidents in order to be trusted.”

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