EasyMile: Level 5 autonomy could still be 8-10 years away

We could be waiting a while for an autonomous vehicle that can whisk us from A-to-B at the push of a button.

As the push towards autonomous vehicles accelerates, car manufacturers are ramping up their claims about what their self-driving cars will be able to do, and when they’ll be able to do it.

General Motors wants to have a vehicle without pedals or a steering wheel on the road by 2019, while Ford says it’ll be building self-driving cars at ‘scale’ by 2021. BMW is also planning to have drivers (sorry, passengers) rolling by 2021.

On the other side of the coin, Lexus has called for a safety-first, slow-and-steady approach to self-driving development.

According to Adwait Kale, business development and project development manager for EasyMile Asia Pacific, we mightn’t see consumer-ready autonomous vehicles until 2028.

“The key difference is, we are at level four automation,” he said, later adding, “a self-driving vehicle available for the consumer, which can just run by itself, I think it’s still seven years in the making. Seven to eight years.”

“The reason being there are so many different aspects you need to take into consideration… lane-changes, traffic, environmental changes. To be able to cater for that, the technology, our AI, needs to evolve.”

EasyMile is a company specialising in autonomous software for last-mile projects. It’s the supplier for the just-announced shuttle trial in rural South Australia, and is involved in similar projects around the world.

Down Under, trials like that are the first point of contact with autonomy for most people. Shuttles running people from carparks, train stations and other transit hubs are far easier to deploy than a wide-ranging, level five vehicle, and could be in full service by 2020.

According to Kale, the initial rollout of autonomy will focus most intently on last-mile solutions, before expanding to include end-to-end mass transit in around 2021.

“Even before the trials are done, [autonomy] is already starting to explode,” Kale said.

“We are targeting around 2021. First-mile and last-mile is happening today, for a full-trip we are targeting 2021,” he later explained, describing the rollout as a “stepwise journey”.

“Our plan is to have a full 80-capacity bus available for trials by 2021,” he elaborated, suggesting the lag between shuttles rolling out and a full-size, end-to-end bus will allow the public time to wrap their heads around autonomous technology.

Given it’s just three years away, 2021 seems an incredibly aggressive target, but Australia supposedly lags behind more advanced European nations by around three years in its autonomous development. Kale says the gap is closing, however.

“We’re still, in my opinion, probably three years behind some of the European countries in regards to legislation and regulation,” Kale said.

“I think it’s catching up… the traction that we have got in the last 12 months has been phenomenal, so we’ll be able to bridge that gap pretty quickly.”