But how will automakers back up the brains of a self-driving car -- the electronic control unit that chooses the vehicle's course?
An airbag control unit could do double duty as a backup to guide the vehicle, says Frank Jourdan, president of Continental AG's chassis division. All it would take is some extra software.
System suppliers could reduce the risk of total failure by using separate teams to write the software programs for the main controller and its backup, Jourdan says.
"A potential software failure wouldn't cause a problem because the same bug would not be in both software packages," Jourdan said. "That would be one way to deal with the complexity."
Jourdan also believes vehicles should have a backup power source in case the main battery fails.
That shouldn't be a major problem for vehicles equipped with stop-start systems. A battery that stores electricity from regenerative brakes also could provide emergency backup power, Jourdan said.
Sensors are another technology that will require backup systems. Collision-avoidance systems currently use a mix of radar and cameras to detect obstacles in the road.
Over the next five years or so, automakers will add lidar to their arrays of sensors -- a belt-and-suspenders strategy to ensure obstacle detection in bad weather.
In January, Continental announced plans to launch commercial lidar production in 2018.