Self-driving cars won't suddenly appear in vast numbers on roads across the U.S. -- they will first start appearing in cordoned off areas and in a variety of driving applications. 

At least that's the view of Brian Modoff, vice president of strategy and M&A at Qualcomm Inc., (QCOM) one of the world's largest chipmakers.

"You'll see self-driving cars emerge in steps," Modoff told The Deal Economy's Chicago conference on Monday. "You'll see it in cordoned off areas where cars drive on their own; you'll see things like self-parking, you will see elements of it before you see the full system."

Modoff's comments come as Qualcomm and other semiconductor companies, including Nvidia and Intel, compete to obtain a larger slice of the automobile market, as the number of semiconductor chips being installed in automobiles steadily increases. Experts assert that the amount of semiconductor chips installed in cars could expand significantly with the arrival of 5G, a next-generation wireless standard, all of which could help promulgate the advent of autonomous vehicles.

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However, Modoff also said it would take a long time before self-driving cars appear in large numbers, considering the amount of work required and all the considerations to evaluate.

"The number of issues that can occur is almost exponential and you try to solve for those," he said. "There are a lot of things that are predictable about how cars drive, but then what about boulder coming off the side of the hill? Or what about a tree falling into the road. There are all kinds of things that can happen that you can't always account for."

He added that manufacturers are likely to get sued if they don't account for all types of possible problems, considering the level of litigiousness in the U.S. "If you don't account for things ... you are going to get sued," he said.

The Deal, host of the conference, is TheStreet's sister publication.