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The Future of Autonomous Cars Is Bright

A group of industry experts and government regulators gather at CES 2020 to discuss the future of car autonomy.

Vehicle automation will change the lives of everyone who uses a vehicle. It will improve the quality of life of the elderly who can't drive, it will increase roadway safety, and it will overall improve a significant portion of the transportation sector.

At CES 2020, The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation met with industry experts from the private sector to discuss the state of the autonomous vehicle sector and what's coming next.

They discussed the increasing automation of the automotive sector and what technologies might be making their way through regulative stages.

First, they discussed the current state and future of autonomous vehicles.

What's coming for autonomous vehicles?

Automation in cars has slowly been increasing. We see all sorts of driver assistance in vehicles today. In the best cars, we see driver-assisted self-driving capabilities, like Tesla's autopilot. 

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration has different levels of automation, with 1 being the person still drives the cars but get's warnings like blind spot assist. It goes all the way up to level 5, where the driver doesn't have to do anything. 

Cars today have proven that level 1, 2, where the car can do some automated functions, but the driver always has to pay attention, is possible. Cars that go all the way to level 5 exist, though. They've been around for years, driving around on test lots across the globe funded by the world's technology companies. 

The biggest hurdle to federal regulation of Autonomous vehicles and consumer adoption is simply user trust. Scroll through the comments section of any article promoting autonomous vehicles, and you'll find an endless number of people who will "never trust them," despite the fact that they've already been proven safer than human drivers.

How vehicle electrification will help vehicle autonomy

Whether you like it or not, most vehicles will likely become electric in the next several decades. Once you get past the nostalgia of old gas guzzlers (I'm a car guy myself, so this hurts me to say), they just don't make much sense. The lack of maintenance needs and the increased flexibility of fuel sources for electric cars are just better than ICE counterparts. Of course, tons of hurdles and problems need to be solved before that happens, but they will be solved. 

Electrification of cars opens up an entire sector of infrastructure that can be built around it — dispersed charging stations throughout cities rather than central gas stations, wireless charging roads, and to a greater extent, car sharing technologies.

Electric car range is getting better and better as the battery range gets better and better. However, the sweet spot of the electric vehicle range is likely between just 250 to 300 miles, as I've discussed in another post.

RELATED: THE SWEET SPOT OF EV RANGE IS 250 TO 300 MILES SAYS PANEL OF EXPERTS

The private sector is working a mix of technological applications for electric vehicles that extend far beyond just consumer vehicles. The unique infrastructure opportunities that electric vehicles pose extend into fully autonomous electric vehicles.

Think of it like this, rather than waiting for a taxi, imagine a line of fully autonomous electric cars waiting on a strip of inductive charging roadway. All of the technologies needed to make this happen already exist; it's just a matter of regulation and user trust.

Autonomous vehicles are great for personal cars, but they really shine in fleets. When autonomous vehicles can work together – share data – it's where the future of autonomous vehicles really shine. 

Not to mention, private vehicles are parked 95 percent of their life, so if there were a reliable autonomous transport fleet available, it would circumvent a lot of this downtime. 

So, what's next for vehicle automation? Cars will move up the scales of autonomy through regulation, and they'll get electric powertrains. The future of autonomous cars is bright.

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