We've written about it before at CarAdvice and discussed it on our various radio shows and the podcast, and we're not the only ones who think that autonomous vehicle technology continues to grow at a rate much faster than the regulations required to police it. In many instances, manufacturers can already offer autonomy that far outstrips the legal framework we have.
Klaus Frohlich, head of development for BMW, agrees. "Autonomy, and the technology associated with it is developing faster than the regulation," Frolich said at the Paris motor show, "fully fledged Level 3 is coming, by 2021. I can guarantee that, up to a 130km/h speed. Level 4 will be available in 2021 as well."
The manufacturers then, are well placed to offer full autonomy as soon as the regulations have caught up, but Frolich isn't holding his breath for Europe (or Australia for that matter) to get ahead of the game any time soon.
"I personally think that China will be the fastest, and Europe will be the slowest. Level 2 Plus, in Europe for example, the driver has to touch the steering wheel every 30 seconds. That's not proper autonomy," he said, "I have no confidence that politically we will wake up fast enough to keep pace with the development of the technology."
You might think China would be a strange suggestion as the fastest to get its act together, but manufacturers have flagged China as a potential leader in electric vehicle uptake as well. And, it's all because China will shape the rules to suit the technology, not the other way round.
"China will create the rules to suit the technology," Frolich said. Whichever way you look at it though, autonomy is coming, and we'll soon have case studies like China to view from afar. For now though, it's up to the manufacturers to keep plugging away with advancing the technical capabilities of the vehicles themselves.
"The difference between Level 4 and Level 5 on a technical perspective is negligible, but we will always have a steering wheel, there will be no BMW without a steering wheel," Frolich said. "The iNext for example will be fun to drive, but if I’m on a motorway for hours, boring driving, it will give me the possibility of sitting in a living room, talking to my partner in the car."