After a promising start in the 21st century imagination, the space-age vision of the self-driving car has plateaued in the last several years. The fully autonomous vehicle — what the industry calls Level Five technology — has proven elusive. Despite sophisticated object-recognition and AI technology, computer-driven cars simply cannot account for the million-and-one things that can happen on the road. Instead, we’ve settled for incremental upgrades like traffic-jam assist and cars that can parallel park themselves.

Thanks to COVID-19, however, the self-driving car industry is hitting the same roadblocks that are slowing down everyone else. Adverse economic conditions are taking a toll, forcing many major players to change plans or delay development of automated vehicle initiatives, says Northeastern University engineering professor Taskin Padir, who specializes in automation technology and directs the Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory at the university.

“Pretty much every technology company is experiencing some kind of slowdown,” Padir says.


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