The 2020 Detroit auto show was supposed to be a seminal event for autonomous vehicles.
As part of their plans to transform the show, state and industry leaders intended for visitors to experience self-driving technology in vehicles, most of which still would have had human safety drivers aboard. Two companies had been contracted to provide rides from Detroit Metro Airport to the downtown convention center, while five more would have circulated along fixed routes around the show itself.
The demonstration was intended to be the first of its kind open to the general public; it remains unclear how that component of Detroit's signature automotive event might be reprised next year. At least two companies — Ford and Mobileye — are planning commercial launches of autonomous vehicles in 2022.
For at least some college students, one aspect of the tech demonstration will be hard to replace. Each of the seven companies had been paired with a Michigan college or university in hopes of building pipelines between academic and industry partners. Graduating students no longer will have that opportunity to work with the companies.
Another aspect that bears watching: Russian self-driving tech company Yandex had perhaps the most ambitious plans for Detroit. While the other companies that were to provide rides at the show use people-moving shuttles, Yandex had planned to deploy 10 Hyundai Sonatas outfitted with self-driving systems. And while the others would have operated on fixed routes, Yandex would not have had preset roads, only fixed stops.
In anticipation of the show, Yandex had established a presence in Detroit, making it the hub of its North American testing. Executives had planned to stay at least through the auto show with consideration for staying longer. How the yearlong delay affects Yandex's plans for the show in particular and Detroit in general remains an open question.