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So just when are we getting self-driving cars

In some senses, we’ve been “close” on self-driving cars for years now. Waymo is doing test runs with no one behind the wheel in Arizona, which it’s been doing since 2017. Cruise delayed the 2019 launch of its autonomous taxi service but thinks it might happen in 2020. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a car with no steering wheel ... and no timetable for when it’ll be available for sale. Tesla’s periodic software updates make its Autopilot highway self-driving work better, but it remains well short of full self-driving.

So just when are we getting self-driving cars

There are certainly skeptics. Recently, the CEO of Volkswagen said that fully self-driving cars might “never happen.”

That might be an overly harsh forecast, considering the progress that’s been made. But it is exasperatingly difficult to get a good estimate of how long until self-driving cars happen for real for the typical American, both because no one knows for sure and because companies have incentives to publicize optimistic estimates. The companies boast about their progress but don’t publish their mishaps. Timelines slip, and the change in plans is often publicly acknowledged only long after it’s become obvious that the deadline can’t be met.

At the same time, companies hesitate to put their cars on the road when there’s any chance they aren’t ready. They are well aware that killing someone, as Uber did, is not only horrible but also probably spells doom for their business. So there’s ample incentive to say optimistic things and not actually launch.

It’s not hard to imagine their arrival later this year, at least in sufficiently limited contexts; it’s also not hard to imagine that the deadlines will be pushed out another three or four years.

Self-driving cars are on their way. They’re closer than they were a year ago. When they’ll actually get here is anyone’s guess.

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