In 20 Years, Most New Cars Won’t Have Steering Wheels or Pedals – Wired
By 2030, most new cars will be made without rearview mirrors, horns, or emergency brakes. By 2035, they won’t have steering wheels or acceleration and brake pedals. They won’t need any of these things because they will be driving themselves.
That’s the takeaway from a new study by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It’s based on a survey of more than 200 experts who work in the various industries that are slowly pushing us toward a future where humans are so much worse than robots are at driving, it’s not worth letting us even touch a steering wheel.
Automakers have made huge strides toward producing conventional cars that can drive themselves in select situations. A few of those will likely be on the market by the end of the decade or soon after. It’s not actually a big jump from what we have today to that point. Combine current features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, pedestrian recognition, and parking assist, and you’ve got a car that controls itself.
We’re not quite there yet. Legislation needs to be passed to govern these cars. Insurance companies must to figure out how their policies will work when you can’t assign the blame for a crash to a human driver. The hardware—the radars, sensors, and cameras that connect the car and the outside world—still needs improvement. In the interim stage, when cars control themselves but humans can still tag in, the stakes won’t be so high.
Shedding the Steering Wheel
The shift to cars without steering wheels and pedals will be revolutionary. It’s one thing to get a driver to let go of the wheel on long highway drives or a boring commute. It’s quite another to put him in a car that he can never drive, even if he wants to.
The change is inevitable, says Alberto Broggi, a professor of computing engineering at the University of Parma and an IEEE fellow. Cars that don’t need human drivers anymore will shed parts made for human control. “There’s nothing you can do about that.” The change will free auto design from the rules that have constrained it for a century. (Only Google has publicly addressed the idea, with a prototype it plans to start testing on public roads this fall.)
Broggi says the 2035 date predictions are realistic, but “you need to be very sure that the car is able to handle any scenario” before you give it full control. That will require a whole lot of testing and validation.
One question the IEEE survey raises but doesn’t answer: What happens to automakers when people don’t drive their cars anymore? Broggi says they can move away from working on the most powerful or best handling cars, and instead strive to deliver the most capable autonomous vehicle. Instead of advertising horsepower, they’ll yammer on about how many crazy situations their four-wheeled robot can handle safely. Marketing departments will trade in gimmicks like hauling around a space shuttle for ways of showing what a driverless car get itself through. We’ve got a few ideas for challenges: Viking attack. Airplane landing on the highway. Sinkhole in your lane. Show us a Ford or Hyundai that can handle those, and we’re in.