When will reasonably affordable self-driving cars be available? Sooner than you might suppose.

By Hank Shaw

Save the date: 2020.

That’s when reasonably affordable self-driving cars will be available from leading automobile manufacturers. And in the years after that, what seems like a sci-fi concept today will quickly become mainstream.

Tackling two tech problems

Of course, there are still some hilly technical hurdles to overcome, because the two major design approaches to self-driving cars have drawbacks.

Some self-driving cars–like the ones made famous by Google–rely on an expensive collection of radar and ultrasonic sensors. That’s one reason why the Google car will set you back about $70,000.

Driverless Cars

Other self-driving cars rely on Dedicated Short Range Communications (DRSC) technology that links cars and smart roads over a wireless network. Thanks to DSRC, these “connected” cars talk to each other, swap information with the infrastructure, and figure out ways to keep everyone safe and moving efficiently toward their destination.

That’s a great solution for cars and drivers. But it doesn’t help “unconnected” pedestrians and bicyclists stay safe. And besides, you have to have a lot of connected cars and costly infrastructure to make the whole system work.

Convergence: The ‘both-and’ solution

So which approach makes the most sense?

Boris Chidlovskii, a principal scientist at Xerox Research Centre Europe in Grenoble, France, explains that there is another solution –  converging the two technologies.

Cars that utilize sensors and DSRC technology could potentially improve safety and reliability, reduce the amount of investment required for the necessary infrastructure, and lower the sticker price on self-driving cars.

Remarkable benefit and a bold prediction

No matter what approach automobile manufacturers finally take, however, one thing is certain. The age of self-driving cars is fast approaching. Which is why a number of governmental agencies in U.S. and Europe are funding research, setting up pilot projects, proposing and enacting legislation, and even building roads specifically designed for cars that steer, brake and park themselves.

In fact, these automotive robots are already street legal in California, Nevada and Florida. And when they finally take over the world’s roadways, you could see some amazing results.

According to estimates cited by Chidlovskii, the number of car crashes could be reduced by an astounding 80 percent. People could shave 70 percent off their daily commute times. Automotive energy consumption could go down by 60 percent. And there’s one more game-changing possibility.

“It’s possible that the notion of private cars will disappear,” Boris said.

Instead, when you need to hit the road, you can just send a request over the net and wait for a self-driving car to pull up to a curb near you. Then you can sit back, relax, and leave the driving to a machine. Which brings us to Boris Chidlovskii’s personal prediction.

“May be in 10 years, the driving license will disappear.”

Game Change City. Plus, it could make a valuable contribution to the world’s aesthetic sensibilities: The elimination of millions of bad driver’s license photos.

Boris Chidlovskii’s video presentation, “Self-Driving Cars: On the Eve of a Technological Revolution,” is part of a series of talks on emerging trends. The Emerging Trends Presentations is a series of 15-minute video presentations on new directions that was developed for the 20th anniversary of Xerox Research Centre Europe on October 4, 2013.