Aurora CEO Chris Urmson stopped by The Vergecast to discuss the future of self-driving cars with Nilay Patel and Andrew Hawkins. They explore how the industry has evolved over the years and how long it will take before self-driving cars are commonly used on the road.
You can listen to the discussion in its entirety on The Vergecast right now. Below is a lightly edited excerpt from this interview regarding some of Urmson’s ideas about how he expects driverless cars to be rolled out in the coming years.
Nilay Patel: So you want to be one of many, many suppliers in the emerging driverless car / automotive industry?
Chris Urmson: Well, we don’t think there’ll be many, many people who can do this. We think actually building the driver is really hard. We imagine what’s now around 100 companies working in this space will probably consolidate down to a handful, and we expect to be one of those companies.
Why? Is there a technology reason you think it’s going to consolidate? Is it a capital reason?
Yes, it’s all of them. It’s really hard. It’s a very complicated problem and one of the more complicated engineering problems, if not the most complicated engineering problem we’re trying to solve right now. The number of people who have deep experience in this is relatively small.
Ultimately, the technology, once we start to get it really deployed and served... people talk about there being self-driving cars today, but there aren’t. They’re not really out there yet. Once we start to see commercial scale happening, there will be evidence that the system works well and serving people well, and that will start to build a bit of a flywheel.
The question I ask every person who comes on our show to discuss self-driving cars is: is this going to happen. Is this real?
Yes, it can happen. I think you’re going to see small-scale deployments in the next five years, and then it’s going to phase in over the next 30 to 50 years.
Do you think it will be rolled out in stages, like after adaption tools get better, or are you taking the steering wheel out right away?
So we’re not taking the steering wheel out necessarily right away. But no, I don’t think it’s a continuum. I think that this Level 2 driver assistance capability is great. That’s making people’s lives a little bit better. But it’s very different than self-driving capability and driverless vehicles. That’s what we’re focused on because we look at all the big players in the automotive space, and they know how to do driver assistance, and it’s really a problem of “is the product compelling enough that the consumer wants to buy it for the price they can sell it at?”
When we think about driverless vehicles that are self-driving vehicles as, you know, the Levels 4 and 5, that’s where we see a transformation. That’s where you can sleep in the car. That’s where the vehicle can be deployed as part of a transportation service, and give you a ride and give me a ride, and we can share the benefit of that together. I think that’s where the economics swing, and that’s where we see the biggest social good for the for cities like New York and San Francisco.
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