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Are manufacturers guilty of over-hyping self-driving cars?

CES 2015: Self-driving, autonomous, whatever you want to call it – letting a computer get you from A to B is a hot topic right now as manufacturers look to the future. The question is just how will come to fruition and how much is marketing?

Ford president and CEO Mark Fields thinks its competitors are guilty of over-hyping. During the announcement of Ford’s Smart Mobility plan at CES 2015, Fields said: “Our priority is not in making marketing claims or being in a race for the first autonomous car on the road.”

“Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing customers’ lives,” he added.

Ford CTO Raj Nair was keen to stress Ford will make a self-driving car and it takes the goal ‘very seriously’, adding that ‘semi-autonomous’ technogies like parking assist are already present in some of its production cars.

We have heard estimations throughout 2014 on when self-driving cars will become available, some seemingly more realistic than others. Volvo is aiming for 2017. Audi says they are five years away. Mercedes has 2030 in mind for its quirky F 015 concept.

Tesla, meanwhile, is aiming for within the next three years, even though it is yet to announce a solid date for the Autopilot system built into the Model S. Nissan thinks the technology could be ready as soon as this year. Honda thinks it will offer partially automated cars in 2020.

The elements of self-driving cars we have seen first-hand – such as self-parking and acting as a taxi – are impressive, but there’s a world of difference between a test in a controlled environment and the real world. Even Google, which already has its own self-driving car in testing, says they are stupid.

Mud-slinging is hardly uncommon among companies, but the point Ford raises is a valid one. Self-driving cars are supposedly on the way and yet roundabouts and inner-city areas are still a problem. Then there are the legalities, safety implications and how humans will react to giving up the wheel. In and amongst all the marketing noise, what kind of progress has actually been made?

Suffice to say, there’s probably a long way to go before you can get inebriated and let your car drive you home, if that ever becomes the case.

Another big topic at CES 2015 was in-car entertainment, an area Ford hopes to exploit with the third outing of its Ford Sync infotainment system.

Whether self-driving cars arrive sooner rather than later, check out ten reasons why they rock.

10 reasons you’ll love self-driving cars

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