How long until driverless cars are affordable?

We’ve talked about driverless cars a lot here at, because we’re pretty excited about where the technology is going. However, beyond all of its hiccups, like the ability to only drive on a handful of roads, the issues with acceptance with the public and government and the potential problems with insurance, there’s one other issue that could stop it becoming popular any time soon: cost. As it stands, Google’s pod cars cost a quarter million dollars each and most simple automated features like lane assist and autonomous braking only come as part of upgrade packs that cost thousands.

So the question is, when will automated vehicles become affordable for the rest of us?

According to Australian researchers at Curtin University, which recently conducted a study of the autonomous car market and estimate what the next few years will be like, we’re looking at about a ten year wait before autonomous vehicles become affordable to the average family.

However they have further evidence to back this up, because they themselves have developed an automated prototype that’s entirely affordable, but it will need a lot more work to be able to compete with the expensive set ups that Google, BMW/Baidu and all the other automakers are working with.

“At the moment our autonomous car can drive in a straight line and sense what is around it,” professor Ba Tuong Vo told AFR. “The next step is to give it a ‘brain’ or the computer systems which can tell how to react to what is around it and also what to do when an object comes in its path.”

“This will be difficult, as it is giving the car total control of all functions, unlike current driver assist technology that focuses on one purpose, such as alerting the driver when the car drifts out of a lane, or cruise control to keep at a certain speed,” he said.


While impressive, Google’s cars are very expensive

Some have suggested that the best way to make automated cars affordable isn’t to use cheaper technology to produce them, but instead create smart roadways that could provide much of the function. However, that’s a much larger investment that does away with the ability to easily upgrade the systems as technology improves. Cars on the other hand can easily be tweaked and updated with new software as they get smarter. There is also no way that you could update every road to be smart, without it taking decades to achieve, at which point the technology will have moved beyond needing them.

Perhaps Google will help speed along the uptake of automated cars by pulling a Tesla and releasing all of its patents on driverless car tech to the world (Tesla did the same with its electric car patents) which in turn could see the market and therefore aid competition and bring prices down for the consumer, thereby increasing the audience for these sorts of cars.

Either way though, it looks like we’ll be well into the 2020s before these sorts of cars become common place on the world’s roadways.

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

    All author posts