BERLIN –The first steps toward automated driving now are clear in Europe and North America.

But questions remain, some as simple as when drivers can safely watch a movie behind the wheel, others as complex as when the car will be a robot that needs no human operator to drive safely from point to point.

At a conference here sponsored by we.CONECT, an international facilitator of business-to-business networking, engineers from automakers, Tier 1 suppliers and technology companies present the pieces they are working on that one day will lead to autonomous driving where the car takes over everything.

“It is going to happen,” says Bakhtiar Litkouhi, a leader in autonomous-driving R&D for General Motors, “and electrification is going to happen.”

The auto industry is working on increasingly sophisticated advanced driver-assistance systems. Whereas the pioneering technologies, such as lane keeping, mainly offer safety benefits, the new systems also feature more comfort for drivers.

Traffic-jam assistance in which cars steer, brake and accelerate up to 18 mph (30 km/h) now is arriving on the market at Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

Cars like that demonstrated by Audi at January’s Consumer Electronics Show that can find a parking place in a garage on their own are expected in several years, as are cars with so-called supercruise, which combine adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping on freeways.

While European automakers are leading the way in seeking solutions to the urban annoyances of parking and traffic jams, Cadillac could be the first U.S. company with hands-off supercruise giving motorists a break on long drives.

“What we have done so far is longitudinal control,” with adaptive cruise control and accident avoidance front and rear, Litkouhi says.

“Supercruise with a full speed range combining adaptive cruise control and lane centering is coming next. As soon as you provide steering, that is the first phase of automated driving.”

Automakers generally prefer the term “automated driving” rather than “autonomous” to distance public expectations from the idea that robot cars are just around the corner.

“Google pushed the idea” of autonomy with publicity over its self-driving cars that have logged millions of kilometers of tests with a driver monitoring the route behind the wheel, says Anders Eugensson, director-governmental affairs for Volvo Cars.

Bryant Walker Smith, a researcher at Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research and the Center for the Internet and Society at Stanford’s law school, says consumers’ expectations of autonomy likely will increase because of publicity over the blind driver of a Google car, or a robotic-taxi demonstration in Berlin.

However, Smith cautions: “The view that people are getting is not realistic in the near term, (and) the view that it will answer 95% of all crashes sets up a difficult legal situation. If the cars don’t live up to the hype, if they crash, if they are not as cool, you ask, ‘Was it a bad design?’”

And in the courts, he says, “expectations shape what is considered a bad design.”

Some people involved in autonomy research believe a revolution is not far away.

Tim Kentley-Klay, founder of Australian start-up Zoox, says he is developing an autonomous electric vehicle that would operate in cities at lower speeds. Contacted and controlled by a smartphone app, it would provide personal transportation to people who would not need to own a car. He hopes to have a prototype made in 2016 and a vehicle on the market four or five years later.

However, a straw poll of attendees at the Berlin conference shows more than 75% expect an evolutionary path toward autonomy.