Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has cast serious doubts over autonomous car technology, predicting it won’t be good enough to become a showroom reality in his lifetime.
The technology genius publicly voiced his concerns – which much of the car industry has remained silent about – during a conference in Las Vegas last week, however the comments were only picked up by motoring media outlets in the past 24 hours.
Respected US journal Automotive News reported there was “too much unpredictability on roads” for autonomous vehicles to properly manage.
“What we've done is we've misled the public into thinking this car is going to be like a human brain to be able to really figure out new things and say, 'Here's something I hadn't seen before, but I know what's going on here, and here's how I should handle it,' " Automotive News quoted Mr Wozniak as saying during the JD Power Auto Revolution conference in Las Vegas last week.
Mr Wozniak said he had “stepped way back” from the idea of Level Five (the highest level of autonomy) being possible even in the decades to come.
“I've really given up,” Mr Wozniak was quoted as saying in Automotive News. “I don't even know if that will happen in my lifetime.”
It is the second time in two years Mr Wozniak has highlighted the limitations of autonomous car technology.
However, having changed his view on the emerging technology, he said at the time “I do not believe in auto driving cars … I don’t really believe it’s quite possible yet” (for cars to drive themselves without a steering wheel).
It’s a U-turn from Mr Wozniak’s earlier belief that autonomous cars would eventually be able to read the road in the same way as a human.
It now seems likely autonomous car technology will initially be restricted to freeways – referred to as “on-ramp and off-ramp” technology – because there are fewer variables at freeway speeds than there are in city and suburban environments.
For example, it is easier for cameras, radar and laser sensors to detect other vehicles – ahead, behind or in adjacent lanes – on clearly marked freeways where the speed differences with other traffic are relatively small.
However, the technology as it exists today is still not foolproof, even in ideal conditions such as a freeway.
It is therefore next to impossible, for now at least, for the technology to predict behaviour of other road users in busy city and suburban environments – and how to appropriately respond to sudden dangers.
Indeed, Automotive News reported Mr Wozniak said last week that autonomous vehicles would be better suited to certain roads “that are well mapped and kept clean of refuse, and nothing unusual happens and there's no road work”.
“The reality of current self-driving systems doesn't match up with consumers' expectations, but Mr Wozniak doesn't think that is their fault,” Automotive News reported.
Several car makers, including Germany's Mercedes-Benz and US giant Ford, have shown test vehicles equipped with autonomous car technology in recent years.
In 2017, Ford even showed it might be possible to deliver pizzas autonomously, although it hadn't solved one final hurdle: how to get the pizza from the car to the customer's front door.