Tech Tent - the bumpy road to self-driving cars

Image of Tesla badge on boot of car Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tesla cars come with assisted driving technology

On Tech Tent this week, we take a closer look at driverless cars and explore the tricky transition period where drivers may not be sure exactly who is controlling a vehicle.

This video which shows the dangers of relying too much on Tesla's Autopilot system to cope with every situation, has proved very popular with readers.


The video illustrates a wider point about the messy middle part of the journey to fully autonomous cars, where the motorist can be assisted by new features but needs to stay alert.

Matthew Avery, of Thatcham Research, tells us that drivers are being misled into thinking these semi-autonomous cars can cope with any situation:

"We're hearing about autonomous cars being available today and that's simply not true. What we've actually got is driver assistance systems."

Frank Chen is an optimist about self-driving cars - he's a partner at the ritzy Silicon venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz which is investing heavily in this area: "Self-driving cars are going to rewire our planet," he tells us. "They're going to remake our cities, they're going to eliminate traffic accidents."

But he agrees with Matthew Avery that getting to this future by steps with the driver gradually letting the car take over is dangerous. "You put any human in a situation where you say, 'You can half pay attention', that's a very dangerous situation to put any human in."

He thinks we should go straight to full autonomy - which forecasters say could take anywhere between five and 50 years.

But once we do get there Mr Chen sees a very different car industry, where instead of being fans of manufacturers, consumers will be loyal to firms which run fleets of autonomous cars - perhaps Uber or China's DiDi Chuxing.

"It looks a little like our loyalty to airlines," he says. "You don't care whether you're riding a Boeing or Airbus - your loyalty is to BA or Air France."

Of course, the big manufacturers are not going to give up control of this market and their relationship with consumers without a fight. Some of them will no doubt launch their own fleets of autonomous vehicles, offering "mobility as a a service".

Nevertheless, Frank Chen expects that many of them will disappear - "we'll probably go from 100 manufacturers to maybe 10."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption OnePlus boss Carl Pei talked about how the firm makes its phones stand out

Two other items on Tech Tent - we have all the latest news from the E3 games show, where the hottest game for years Fortnite has been making a big splash.

And at Founders Forum, a gathering of the tech elite, we meet two impressive young entrepreneurs still in their 20s. Rania Belkahia tells us of her plans to build an Amazon for Africa with Afrimarket, an e-commerce firm which is overcoming all kinds of infrastructure challenges.

And Carl Pei, who in five years has turned OnePlus into a smartphone brand with a very loyal following, talks to us about the challenge of standing out in a sea of Android sameness.

More on this story