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At CES, Toyota showed how cars could learn to handle traffic situations (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

There is little doubt that, from a technical point of view, it's no longer an illusion that cars can get around without a driver at the wheel. But technology is not the only factor that plays a role in realizing a future of self-driving cars.

A recent article in the New York Times newspaper says that only 6 pc of the most populous cities in the US are today including autonomous cars in ther long-term plans. Governments and regulators are only just beginning to develop standards for fully automated vehicles. And there is little agreement between automakers, regulators, government agencies and other stakeholders on the kind of rules and regulations that will be required for such a fundamental change in traffic.

Gill Pratt, who heads a new Toyota research arm that will focus on autonomous driving, believes that even the technology will face "lots of work." Speaking at the CES consumer electronics fair in early January, Pratt said driverless cars work well under relatively easy conditions such as highway driving or stop-and-go traffic.

The problems occur in the more difficult situations, where the car will have to make informed decisions that, sometimes, aren't merely based on straight rules and regulations. Toyota is investing 1 billion dlrs to develop artificial intelligence for cars to deal with this kind of decision-making. Said Pratt: "We are a long way from the finish line of fully automated cars."

Most carmakers expect autonomous vehicles to become reality in 10 to 15 years. Kia, for example, said at CES that it planned to have self-driving cars in its model lineup by 2030. Conditional autonomous driving technology would be available earlier.

The New York Times article can be found here.