It was 2017, and the future of driving was right around the corner: Fleets of autonomous cars would cruise city streets while self-driving buses swerved around pedestrians. Three years ago, tech companies around the world, including Nvidia and Audi, felt confident enough in AVs to predict this driverless future would be a reality by 2020.

Venture capital funds snapped up self-driving startups, plowing cash into dozens of these companies in China and around the world. Pitchbook figures show the global deal count in the AV sector nearly tripled to 127 in 2017.

The industry had to grow up eventually, and it’s happening now. Small players are leaving the market as it matures around a few success stories; in China, central planners are pushing back targets to match reality. Easier, less flashy applications like delivery-robot autonomous trucks are getting more attention from investors.

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Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen