The rise of autonomous cars might turn out to be more rapid than even the most devout Knight Rider fans were hoping. According to a new report from Navigant Research, in just over two decades, Google Cars and their ilk will account for 75 percent of all light vehicle sales worldwide. In total, Navigant expects 95.4 million autonomous cars to be sold every year by 2035.
That's pretty astonishing. For one thing, that's more cars than are built every year right now. As of 2012, which was a record-breaking year for car production, 60 million cars were rolling off global assembly lines per annum.
So it's not just that there will be tons of autonomous cars flooding our streets—there will be tons more cars, period. The figures indicate that there will be nearly 130 million cars sold every year. Bear in mind that many of those sales will include used vehicles—and some estimates place the number of used cars sold in the US alone at 40 million per year.
The projections take into account the fact that hundreds of millions of more people (especially in China) are becoming wealthy enough to buy cars, and imagines that demand will continue to increase. And they will be buying autonomous cars.
Which isn't far-fetched at all, really. As the Navigant report notes, the "industry consensus is that autonomous driving will be available by 2020." But the obstacles to widespread adoption "are not technological."
Indeed, many "autonomous" features are available on cars already the market—auto-braking and driver correction are already hardwired into luxury sedans being sold as we speak. And moving far beyond those innovations entirely technologically feasible, too, as the Google cars have proved.
"Advances in computing power and software development mean that features such as high-end image processing and sensor fusion are now ready for production," the report notes. "Rather, the factors that remain to be solved before rollout to the public are those of liability and legislation."
Despite a couple of laws legalizing driverless cars in Nevada and Florida (and in California, where it's now lawful to test-drive them)—there's still the issue of making these autobots street legal. And then there's the issue of insuring them, which may prove even thornier. Who's liable, after all, when two driverless cars piloted by software engineered for major corporations crash into each other? Because that answer isn't clear, expect driverless cars to uproot the entire insurance system if Navigant's projections hold true.
Once those hurdles are cleared, however, expect increasingly autonomous cars to invade the roads. By 2035, we might just have transformed our cars and highways into trains.