Electric car sales may have stalled but the autonomous vehicle revolution looks set to overtake the motoring world with quite astonishing speed. Around the world carmakers, technology firms and governments are scrambling to embrace the strange new world of autonomous motoring.
Computer giant Intel recently bought autonomous vehicle technology firm MobileEye in a $15.3 billion deal. MobilEye's technology for data analysis, machine learning, localisation and mapping for driver assistance systems proved a perfect fit with Intel's technology.
MobileEye reckons its new assisted driving platform will find its way into autonomous cars as early as 2020. Intel is already working with BMW and MobileEye to create a fleet of 40 autonomous cars that will be on European and American roads later this year.
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the tech giant. Tesla has blamed MobileEye technology for a series of accidents involving its cars, resulting in a dispute between the two companies over responsibility.
The potential of autonomous cars has just been demonstrated by Chinese carmaker NIO. Its EP9 model, which the company modestly claims to be the world's best electric car, just set a speed record for an autonomous car by lapping the Formula 1 Circuit of the Americas at a top speed of 257kmh.
Meanwhile, in what might just be the strangest form of motorsport since lawnmower racing, the world's first race between autonomous vehicles has been run and won in Buenos Aires Argentina. The winner greeted the chequered flag by default when the other car missed a corner and careered into a barrier. Animal lovers will be pleased to hear that the winner even managed to avoid a dog that wandered onto the track.
The ability to dodge wandering animals at speed is certainly impressive but autonomous vehicles may soon be facing legal obstacles that prove more difficult to get around. The technology is proving quite a challenge for lawmakers, especially in the United States with its numerous state and federal laws. There's an obvious need for more intelligent roads, where sensors and cameras are built into road hardware like signs and signals to communicate with autonomous vehicles to avoid accidents. But the burning question is "who pays for it?".
With far fewer states and territories to deal with, Australia is better placed than the United States when it comes to developing a legislative framework for autonomous vehicles. Transport ministers from around the country have already agreed to a set of national policies to formulate the rules when autonomous cars hit our roads. The National Transport Commission is moving ahead with 24 new policies that sort out the problems of driverless vehicles.
One policy is that drivers will still be legally liable for a vehicle even when it is operating autonomously.
What won't be so straight-forward is dealing with the inevitable economic disruption and unemployment stemming from fully autonomous "Level 5" vehicles that require no driver input. That level of autonomy is still some way off, which will probably come as a relief for many professional drivers.