The Tech Moves

If No One Can Afford Driverless Cars, Will They Even Matter?

By: Catherine Metcalf

If No One Can Afford Driverless Cars, Will They Even Matter?

It’s no secret that auto companies are hailing driverless cars as the answer to all our road troubles. Artificial Intelligence will make our cars smarter and more focused than human drivers could ever be. At the same time, advanced camera mapping technology is predicted to gift the vehicles with perfect vision in any weather condition.

With all the rapid technological advancement happening in the auto sector, it almost seems like inevitable that everyone will be able to sit back and relax at the wheel in just a few years’ time. However, before that can happen, the technology needs to become more accessible – especially from a budgetary standpoint.

Current Market Conditions

As it sits today, fully autonomous vehicles are predicted to go for as much as $400,000. Part of the reason for that is because it’s mainly luxury automakers that are exploring the technological possibilities. Brands like Audi, Tesla, and BMW are all working towards outfitting their high-end cars with the costly (but necessary) driverless tech.

It seems extreme that driverless cars will be so expensive. Unfortunately, it seems to be realistic, at least for now.

The high price point can also be attributed to the fact that the cost of the technology will be added to the existing value of a vehicle. This means that a consumer is looking at an additional minimum cost of between $8,000 and $10,000.

Many experts agree that the price of the technology is unrealistic for the average consumer. As a result, this could be the very thing that prevents this exciting advancement from becoming widespread.

The Price of Technology

Driverless cars will be a failure if they can’t lessen, or at least prevent, the high number of collisions and injuries after a car accident that occur on the road each year. A reliable sight system is perhaps the most important part of any autonomous car. The current system in place is LIDAR, a laser sensor that can almost instantaneously map out the area surrounding the vehicle.

Unfortunately, Velodyne’s top-of-the-line LIDAR system costs about $75,000. This model has 64 laser channels that provide the car with a 360-degree view of the world around it. An inferior but less expensive option is their smaller unit that’s fitted with a mere 16 lasers. This would add roughly $8,000 to vehicle cost.

That’s not to say that an automaker can get away with only adding one, lower-end LIDAR system per vehicle. The safest and best vehicles will be run by multiple LIDAR devices placed around the vehicle. These would be in addition to radar systems, cameras, and various other hardware and technology in order to ensure the safest experience for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.


Will the Average Consumer Ever Own a Driverless Car?

As it stands now, it’s simply unrealistic to expect that the average consumer will be willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology that isn’t entirely justifiable. Luckily for automakers, not all is lost.


Although the current cost of a self-driving car is high, as with many technologies, the older the tech gets, the cheaper it will become. Companies will be able to cut down on costs as they perfect the technology, and start-ups could enter the market with cheap but equally efficient camera systems.


Another possibility for the technology is that it could be used by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Thanks to their high-profit businesses, these large companies would be able to bear the burden of the high price-point. While that would mean you personally might not own a driverless vehicle, it could cut down on the cost of a rideshare or private car, as the need for a human driver is reduced (or one day, completely eliminated).


A successful, fully autonomous vehicle is still some time away in the future. This gives developers an opportunity to perfect the technology while bringing down the cost of the vehicles. If something doesn’t change, or there isn’t an adequate substitute for the average consumer, driverless cars may just be a tech fad before being left off the roads.

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