For years, Silicon Valley giants and Detroit automakers alike have sold the public visions of a utopia featuring autonomous vehicles. That reality is still far off, but that hasn’t stopped companies from cashing in on repeated promises that suggest otherwise.
Executives (other than Musk) have been admitting that reports of their impending deployment were greatly exaggerated. Ford CEO Jim Hackett said last monththat the industry had “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.” Chris Urmson, the former leader of Google’s self-driving car project, once hoped that his son wouldn’t need a driver’s license because driverless cars would be so plentiful by 2020. Now the CEO of the self-driving startup Aurora, Urmson says that driverless cars will be slowly integrated onto our roads “over the next 30 to 50 years.” That’s nearly as long as it took computers to evolve from IBM’s first mainframe to Apple’s first iPhone.
The whole endeavor has the feeling of a high-stakes gamble, where everyone’s gone all in and no one is sure of the exact payoff. “Everyone in the industry is becoming more and more nervous that they will waste billions of dollars,” Klaus Froehlich, a board member at BMW and its head of research and development, told Reuters last year.