Sadly, it appears that the closest I’m ever going to get to enjoying a driverless vehicle is by watching reruns of “Knight Rider,” a childhood TV favourite of mine. In the show, a Pontiac Trans-Am named KITT — powered by artificial intelligence — drove actor David Hasselhoff around to fight crime.
I came to that realization Nov. 2 when I interviewed Hanif Datoo, Telus vice-president of technical sales and the telecomm giant’s expert in connected vehicles.
Since I began this job more than six years ago, I’ve been hearing and reading that self-driving cars are coming, and soon.
Not so, says Datoo, who was my guest on the Automotive News Canada Podcast.
He laid out a laundry list of challenges the industry faces.
There’s network lag and incomplete coverage of 5G connectivity; the integration of networks with traffic systems; the ability to identify and connect with other vehicles, critical infrastructure, cyclists and pedestrians; precise positioning within a lane of traffic, inclement weather; and congestion.
As I read back the list of potential problems, I imagine one of those voiceovers at the end of an American ad for a new medication warning me of all the risks and side effects involved.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Datoo told me.
Maybe that’s why Ford and Volkswagen Group on Oct. 26 pulled out of Argo AI, the autonomous-vehicle technology company partially bankrolled by the automakers.
Doug Field, Ford’s chief advanced product development and technology officer, said building an autonomous taxi capable of navigating in a dense urban landscape is “harder than putting a man on the moon.”
And Ford isn’t NASA.
“Profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off and we won’t necessarily have to create that technology ourselves,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement.
So, just how far off?
“There’s no good way to make a prediction,” said Datoo. “Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy is hard. The way we think about it is... what does it take to get technology innovation to about half the population?”
Well, when it comes to cellphones, Datoo said, for example, it took 20 years — from 1985 through 2005 — for 50 per cent of Canadians to own one.
“Assuming Level 4 and Level 5 technology challenges are solved by the end of this decade, we’re probably looking at mass adoption by the 2045 or 2050 time frame. That’s nothing more than a guess.”
I’ll be 74 years old.
At least I won’t have to drive to my doctor’s appointments. And surely I’ll be able to watch “Knight Rider” on the way, right?