It’s no surprise that the next big innovation in the automobile industry is fully autonomous vehicles. Automotive leaders across the world are all competing design the first mass-produced autonomous vehicle for commercial roadways. Driverless vehicles are already being utilized in the mining industry, and Tesla has rolled out vehicles with an autopilot mode over the past year. Some companies, Google included, have been testing driverless cars, but they are not being mass produced. So how far are we from seeing fully autonomous vehicles driving through our cities?

It seems hard to believe, but it has already been two years since Audi sent an autonomous A7 from San Francisco to CES in Las Vegas. The 569-mile journey was a monumental accomplishment for Audi and the autonomous community alike. The trip showed the capabilities of driverless vehicles even though they were not (and still are not) being mass produced.  

Tesla is the company that is usually top of mind in most autonomous vehicle conversations. The Autopilot feature on the Model S and Model X allows the driver have a hands free “driving” experience. The Autopilot technology is constantly being improved via software updates, and the updates download in real time with over-the-air syncing. In December Tesla rolled out “Enhanced Autopilot” with a few key improvements. Enhanced Autopilot will match the speed of traffic conditions, keep within lanes or change lanes without needing driver input, transition from one freeway to another, exit the freeway, park in a parking spot, and be summoned to you from your garage. A Tesla recently predicted a collision two cars ahead of it on the freeway and alerted the driver before it happened.

There seems to be a common timeframe for other vehicle manufacturers to roll out autonomous cars to the masses. Ford made an announcement in August of 2016 that it will start shipping self-driving cars without steering wheels, brake pedals, or gas pedals by 2021. Ford CEO Mark Fields stated that the auto giant is moving towards being a mobility company instead of an auto company by launching a new subsidiary, Ford Mobility Solutions. Ford also plans on doubling up on employees in Silicon Valley and opening new offices and labs in Palo Alto. BMW, Toyota, Tesla, Volkswagon, and other manufacturers are all along the same timeline, give or take a year.

While sitting behind the lack of a wheel in an autonomous vehicle seems like something we’ll all be doing in the future, it is going to be a slow process. Vehicles will be rolled out in different stages and with different features. The technology needed to make a car fully autonomous will increase the price by roughly $10,000, and early predictions show that consumers will be very hesitant to make a purchase until the cars are proven to be safe.

The most important factor to getting these vehicles on the road comes in the form of laws and regulations. With autonomous vehicles taking the road, lawmakers must come up with a whole new rulebook to set the standards for driverless vehicles.