Self-driving cars are all the rage, with almost daily demonstrations of the latest advances by automakers and suppliers. But before shifting control of vehicles from individual drivers to artificial intelligence, the auto industry must agree on standards, legality and infrastructure needs.
Collaboration is essential in a world of autonomous vehicles. One obvious example: Connected cars will need a common wireless network if they are to communicate with one another to avert crashes.
The industry has been both cautious in promising self-driving vehicles and painstaking in developing the basic technology needed to get there. But much of that technology is already on the road today, what with driver assistance systems that can detect obstacles, warn of lane departures and even brake to a stop.
Both Nissan and Mercedes-Benz have announced the goal of offering self-driving vehicles by 2020. Toyota and Audi are cooperating on technology. So are supplier Continental and nonautomotive giants IBM and Google. Most other global automakers and suppliers have their own programs.
Existing technology lets us imagine endless possibilities ahead, though it is hard to know what will become a reality and which technological solutions will prevail.
Only three states have passed laws that spell out the rules for putting self-driving cars on the road, and there are still questions about legal liability if a vehicle gets itself into an accident.
Also, automakers know far more about what is technically possible than they know about what the public might want, let alone pay for.
So the self-driving vehicle faces multiple challenges: gauging consumer demand, establishing liability, setting industrywide standards and determining what infrastructure is needed.
With the slate that full, the industry must focus as hard on cooperating as on competing.