GM says we'll have autonomous vehicles much sooner than you think
Or will we?
General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently said that "we need to have kind of a revolutionary and an evolutionary strategy around driver assistance all the way to full Level 4, Level 5 autonomy," and she added that the average American could potentially buy a fully autonomous car by 2030.
If I had a dollar for every time somebody said "autonomous cars are coming sooner than we think", I'd now be able to buy an autonomous car. Interestingly, if I had a dollar for every time somebody said the exact opposite of that, I'd now have more or less the same amount of money. It seems to me that car makers engage in this debate from a biased (which is understandable) and somehow politicized point of view, but at the end of the day every time we talk about self-driving cars, it really boils down to three things: legality, applicability and technology.
Even if (or when) we reached a point where self-driving technology is 100% ready - and we're still far from that - complicated legal and practical challenges would remain. I can see at least three. Firstly, different countries would require specific pieces of legislation to make self-driving cars - and therefore "self-driving traffic" - legal; secondly, there are several countries where this just looks impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future for various reasons (geography, population density, roads quality, etc); and thirdly, you'd need coordination between countries, especially countries with land borders.
Tesla's Autopilot, for example, isn't the same in the US as it is in other places. I remember trying to test it in Italy and the car wouldn't drive itself, it would require constant feedback from the driver, i.e. me, to make sure I was awake and alert.
As things stand, it's a race between VW, Honda, Tesla and GM, which is counting on Cruise - its self-driving subsidiary - to make progress to beat competition. GM and Cruise developed something called Super Cruise, an hands-free driver-assist that the companies have been testing in San Francisco. I guess we gotta wait and see. I wouldn't hold my breath, though.