Automated & Connected

Automated vehicles not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’

The automotive industry once questioned whether electric motors would replace the internal combustion engine (ICE) as the primary powertrain option for consumers. Today, the industry is facing a similar challenge regarding the adoption of automated vehicles. Many companies already realize that the implementation of electric and automated technologies is a ‘when,’ not an ‘if’ situation. They have started developing these technologies before answering the next question, “How does this new reality affect the industry today?”

The first question that most people try to answer is when fully automated vehicles will be produced for public use. Analysts seem to have a wide variety of opinions. Loup Ventures expects almost 100 million fully autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2040. PwC predicts that autonomous vehicles could make up as much as 40% of traffic in 2030. Goldman Sachs anticipates semi-autonomous cars will be on the roads in the next one to two years.

AV safety framework

Analysts may not agree on the exact timeline of public deployment of AVs, but subject-matter experts have agreed that a framework is needed to evaluate the level of safety of automated driving systems (ADS). This framework is expected to move beyond today’s understanding of safety as preventing crashes and transition to one of expected, predictable driving behavior.

SAE International has announced the initial formation of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC) with Ford, General Motors (GM), and Toyota, marking the start of a necessary agreement among all AV developers to promote a consistent model of safety. Traditional automotive manufacturers are not the only companies developing AV systems. Newer technology developers like Waymo and Uber are also entering the marketplace. Having a unified approach to AV safety will provide benefits to all these companies as well as the public by leveraging a consistent approach to protecting all road users.

AV regulation development

Industry experts also recognize the need to draft regulations that promote the development and deployment of automated vehicles in a safe manner. In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its latest set of recommendations, Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0 and announced an ADS pilot research program seeking public comment on the safety of ADS testing, development, and eventual deployment. 

Several countries have also been proactive in regulating AV development. China has created a pilot zone called A NICE CITY to promote interaction between the public and vehicles with ADS technologies. The United Kingdom (UK) has created a separate department called the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles focused on AV research, development, and use. This reality is recognized by regulators around the world.

AV public acceptance

Another hurdle in the deployment of fully automated vehicle is public acceptance. Electric vehicle sales barely reached 2% in the United States in 2018, but that number is up 81% over the previous year. Electrification is now spreading through the marketplace with the introduction of vehicles like the 2019 Ram 1500 and 2019 Volvo S60. The public will be increasingly exposed to electrified powertrains throughout this next decade, especially as emissions regulations continue to demand cleaner vehicles.

Automated vehicles will likely see similar slow acceptance by the public without significant efforts to provide prior interaction. SAE International has taken a proactive step by organizing consumer demonstration events called SAE Demo Days, designed to provide people hands-on experience with automated vehicles. Colleges and universities have also provided demonstrations for students, staff, and the public to connect with these vehicles right where they are being developed. These opportunities for road users to interact with AVs enable trust to be built in a safe environment while also contributing valuable feedback for ADS developers.

As automated vehicles become an imminent reality on public roads, immediate actions should be taken today. An accepted safety framework, regulatory requirements, and public perception all need to be addressed. The question of when AVs will be publicly deployed can be argued, but the bigger question remains, “Are we prepared for this change?” 


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Matthew Borst is a content editor at SAE International in the Global Products Group. Previously, he worked as a technical writer at Polaris Industries and was responsible for writing service manuals for various powersports products. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a degree in Automotive Engineering.  His interests include the latest automotive industry news, movies, hockey, and anything that keeps his two kids entertained.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at