Why the Driverless Car Revolution has Stalled

As Uber parks its plans for robotaxis, experts admit the autonomous vehicle challenge is bigger than anticipated.

By 2021, according to various Silicon Valley luminaries, bandwagoning politicians and leading cab firms in recent years, self-driving cars would have long been crossing the US, started filing along Britain’s motorways and be all set to provide robotaxis in London.

1 January has not, however, brought a driverless revolution. Indeed 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.

Prof Nick Reed, a transport consultant who ran UK self-driving trials, says: “The perspectives have changed since 2015, when it was probably peak hype. Reality is setting in about the challenges and complexity.”

Automated driving, says Reed, could still happen in the next five years on highways with clearly marked lanes, limited to motorised vehicles all going in the same direction. Widespread use in cities remains some way further out, he says: “But the benefits are still there.”

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