Driverless in 2022: Were the predictions right?
Technology and Business
In this article we dive into predictions for driverless tech in 2022 and ask:
- Will robo-taxis become a regular sight in 2022?
- Has last-mile delivery become more accessible?
- Are driver assistance features unlocking our driverless future?
The world of autonomous driving is developing at incredible speed as technology advances and OEMs race to get driverless vehicles onto our roads. With such rapid change happening around us, predictions for the future of AVs are regularly made. Back in 2016, Business Insider claimed as many as 10 million self-driving cars would be on the road by 2020 and many OEMs seemed to support the assertion. New forecasts are made every year, so now, we’re taking a look back, and forward, to discover if any have become reality.
Robo-taxis become a regular sight
There’s no question that the development of driverless vehicles will lead to a shift in approaches to vehicle ownership. Robo-taxis, as a result, have often been discussed as the first form of AV we can expect to see rolled out on our roads. So far, though, milestones have been missed. In 2016, NuTonomy announced plans to deploy self-driving taxis in Singapore in 2018, then expanding across 10 cities by 2020. Tesla was equally confident it would launch robo-taxis in 2020. Uber hoped to have 75,000 AVs on the road by 2019, with robo-taxis in 13 cities by 2022. Yet, so far, little progress has been made when it comes to active services the public can use on real roads.
Despite this, fresh predictions from consulting giant McKinsey suggested 2022 would see a rapid acceleration. Focusing in on China, it noted that Beijing plans to reduce regular passenger car transportation by 30% by 2035 and other areas expect to see 20% of vehicles in major cities become autonomous by 2030 – McKinsey suggests robo-taxis are the key to achieving both. Others agree it’s a growing market, with Allied Market Research reporting that its value is set to rise to $1.03billion in 2023, then $38.61billion by 2030.
Still, most progress remains in the showroom. Amazon subsidiary Zoox launched a four-passenger AV designed for ride-hailing at the TechCrunch Mobility 2022 conference, but it’s yet to make it onto roads. Pilot projects continue across the globe and in Munich, car rental company Sixt and Mobileye are collaborating to launch 25 robo-taxis for extensive testing before more arrive in the city. There are a few places where progress is becoming more practical though.
In April this year Pony.ai obtained a taxi license in China, allowing the business to operate 100 taxis in the Guangzhou city district of Nansha. Vitally, these permits don’t require a safety driver and allow the vehicles to charge a fare, as you’d expect from a taxi. In California, too, robo-taxis have been given the green light as a fleet of 30 electric AVs have been permitted to charge San Francisco passengers for rides between 10pm and 6am. It may be slow progress, but might just be the closest we’ve come to seeing a fully rounded, fully functional system of robo-taxis on the road.
Last-mile delivery becomes more accessible
The market for last-mile delivery is buzzing, so it’s not surprising that many suggested 2022 would be the year it began to expand in a big way. We’ve spoken before about the potential in this area as smaller, often slower, vehicles that don’t carry passengers are able to develop at a faster pace and with less regulation limiting progress.
Last-mile driverless delivery is already present around the world. Dominating the space, Starship’s small delivery vehicles have now made over two million deliveries across the globe and locations in which the service is available are growing. Plus, 70% of Starship customers say they’d now choose robot delivery over a human-powered service.
Though we’re still some way off realising McKinsey’s 2016 forecast that 80% of parcels would be delivered autonomously, demand is clearly growing. Uber Eats has recently launched its own autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles, with plans to expand following a trial period. Segway and Coco, a robot delivery service, have recently come together to launch the Coco 1. Much like others in its design, this iteration stands out for the fact it can carry larger, and heavier, loads, again reducing the need for on-road delivery vehicles.
Following investment across the last-mile landscape in the wake of Covid-19, the market looks set to expand at speed. By 2027, some predict its value will rise to $237million as more and more respond to rising e-commerce demand with innovative delivery models. Delivery robots and specially designed AVs, like that recently launched by DPD in Estonia, are forecast to become mainstream products accounting for over 75% of ground-based delivery by 2042.
Driver-assistance features boost AV adoption
Acceptance and adoption of autonomous vehicles is an ongoing concern across the industry. Though it seems acceptance of driverless technology is increasing, progress is undeniably slow. However, as advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like cruise control or automatic braking continue to grow in popularity, many seem to hope that trust of ADAS will lead to trust of more developed autonomous driving systems.
We recently explored this topic in more depth in our article, Driver assistance features: The perfect stepping stone to acceptance of AVs?, and it seems something is changing in 2022. Not only are mandates for autonomous emergency-braking and forward-collision warning systems by 2022 ensuring ADAS is adopted in the EU and US, comfort levels with the tech are improving as more and more new vehicles are sold with them as standard. Now, ADAS is one of the fastest-growing segments in automotive electronics. In line with that development, legislation across the world is working to welcome ADAS and AVs onto our roads.
Predictions surrounding ADAS have perhaps made less impact than those focused on AVs more generally as the tech has been around for so long. Development has, for the most part, progressed in a straight line, but now things seem to be picking up. A new study by Roland Berger shows that, though development was set back by the global pandemic, 85% of vehicles produced globally in 2025 will feature some level of driving automation as standard. Whether that will prompt increased comfort with AVs remains to be seen as latest studies still show up to 58% are uncomfortable with the idea of using a self-driving vehicle.
Though it’s clear some of the predictions circling the industry haven’t been met so far in 2022, progress is being made. The continued rollout of robo-taxi trials and the expansion of last-mile delivery show just that, but latest forecasts suggest mass autonomous travel is at least a decade down the road. Genuine progress is rarely made with one new release, or a single big development. Instead, the industry relies on people building layers of innovation over time until AVs are accepted and become a common feature on our roads. That may not have come yet, but it is certainly getting closer.
What do you think? Is 2022 meeting your expectations when it comes to progress in the AV industry?
Are you excited to see more driverless last-mile delivery options?
Are you eager to hop in a robo-taxi?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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