Keep driving!

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POSTED: January 5, 2021

Yesterday I read an article in The Guardian that asked where all the autonomous vehicles had gone. Two years ago all sorts of people told us to expect them any day now. Nowadays: not so much.

The answer turns out much as you might expect. According to Professor Paul Newman, “We’ve gone through the flashy stage, when we’ve said it’s six months away … Now we’ve got engineers saying this is properly hard.”

Newman still confidently expects them to appear. I rather suspect that they will, but in much more limited circumstances than originally touted. AR (or XR, or whatever we call it this week) will also undoubtedly make inroads in some form into some markets, but it will not take over the world.

We can find other examples of hype followed by a fast pivot into a specialist market in recent history. The mini-disk arrived as the universal replacement for every other form of audio and video storage, for example; and ended up as a specialist storage device used in video production.

We should note that

in the last weeks of 2020 Uber, one of the biggest players and supposed beneficiaries, decided to park its plans for self-driving taxis, selling off its autonomous division to Aurora in a deal worth about $4bn (£3bn) – roughly half what it was valued at in 2019…

Like Uber, the cab firm Addison Lee had staked out bold ambitions, signing up with the UK autonomy pioneer Oxbotica in 2018 to get robotaxis into London by 2021.

That deal was quietly dropped in March last year, under new ownership. Addison Lee’s chief executive, Liam Griffin, said: “Driverless cars are best left to the OEMs [manufacturers], and don’t form part of our current plans.”

File next to “Hovercars: coming soon”.