Aspirations to place self-driving technology in the hands of ordinary vehicle owners had largely been relegated to the back burner.
As automakers and technology companies better understood the enormity of that challenge in recent years, they've chosen to focus on simpler tasks in the shorter term, concentrating on building virtual drivers for niches such as geography-constrained taxis, last-mile delivery and high-way travel.
With the exception of a certain billionaire who pitches "full self-driving capability" different from the rest of the industry, most companies have considered the real deal something far off in the fuzzy future.
That's changing. Global supplier Mobileye unwrapped plans last week to make self-driving technology available in personally owned vehicles in 2025. The Intel subsidiary made the announcement during CES.
"Robotaxi will be somewhat of a game- changer when it's ubiquitous, because you are eliminating the driver. But having a consumer AV? That is completely disruptive; that is completely game-changing," said Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua.
Few competitors have even broached the subject. Waymo has an agreement to work with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on self-driving tech for personally owned vehicles, but that remains a "longer-term opportunity," according to a Waymo spokesperson.
Tesla's Elon Musk has touted plans to release a "full self-driving" feature in 2021. But Tesla defines "full self-driving" as still requiring a human driver who's responsible for vehicle operations — much to the consternation of safety advocates and competitors.
Industry analysts don't foresee self-driving vehicles that are defined by SAE International as Level 4 and above reaching dealerships for another decade. Brian Collie, global leader of automotive and mobility at Boston Consulting Group, forecasts self-driving cars will begin to reach consumers as personally owned vehicles by the early 2030s, with 1 million sold by 2033 or 2034. Even then, he expects technical challenges will persist.
"In a Level 4 operation, that will be available where there's very, very detailed localization and high-definition mapping, where environmental conditions are updated on a very, very, very frequent basis," he said.
That's exactly where Mobileye intends to succeed.