Autonomous cars are perhaps the most exciting invention of the 21st century so far. From humble beginnings almost a decade ago, driverless cars have become something that is now discussed in the mainstream and something that practically every major carmaker is working towards right now.
Autonomous cars will do more than just take you to work or bring you home from the pub if you’re drunk: many experts are predicting that they will fundamentally reshape our society, just as the original automobile did. Just think for a second what the world would look like if cars, trucks, and motorcycles had never been invented. Our cities would look very different, that’s for sure. We’d all be crowded into the center to be closer to services. And there wouldn’t be mile after mile of road and parking lot. Perhaps horses would still roam the streets.
The latest predictions from the car industry itself is that we will see autonomous vehicles emerge onto our roads between 2020 and 2025. Tesla thinks that it might be able to get there sooner. And Audi has indicated that it is already at level 3 autonomy and will soon be moving onto level 4. What’s interesting about the current drive to driverless cars is that it doesn’t rely on the usual car model cadence. Instead, the most cutting edge vehicles, like the Tesla Model 3, can be updated wirelessly. In other words, cars are moving towards a platform model where your car can receive new updates like your phone operating system, and customers can enjoy the benefits immediately.
Will we just have autonomous cars, or will other vehicles also become driverless? The answer to that question appears to be unequivocal “yes.” There are already dozens of prototype vehicles under construction and being trialed in the real world that suggests that autonomy is coming to all categories of vehicle. For instance, there are already flying car prototypes being developed by people like Google founder Larry Page. And other companies, like Daimler, are testing autonomous trucks on US and German roads. The hope is that businesses will be able to buy autonomous fleets by 2025, slashing their wage bills and lowering prices for consumers. We may also see a proliferation of new classes of vehicle, like sidewalk drones which will do everything from clean up the streets to deliver pizzas.
Will you need to insure your car, truck or motorcycle through Johnson or another company? That’s not clear yet. According to industry experts, it is predicted that insurance will still be required because there is still a risk. Even though autonomous cars are expected to reduce the number of accidents by more than 90 percent, there is still a chance that they will hit pedestrians and cyclists if they step out into the road unexpectedly. As with any technology, there are still risks, but many of those risks can’t be abated by the technology itself. They require pedestrians to make better decisions and observe the road more carefully, something which they are unlikely to do.
The question of who will ultimately cash in on this autonomous extravaganza remains to be seen. This is going to be one of the growth industries of the early 21st century, but it’s not yet clear who will win. The early indications seem to suggest that it won’t be the carmakers themselves (except Tesla possibly). Instead, it looks like it is going to be the people who develop the autonomous software and hardware. Nvidia, the computer graphics chip company, has seen its share price rocket to astronomical levels over the last couple of years or so following its foray into deep learning and the autonomous car market. AMD, though lagging a little behind Nvidia in the car space, is another company which could potentially break into the market and make a lot of money. Its share price has quadrupled over the last 18 months.
What we do know is that incumbent firms are usually unwilling or unable to change. What usually happens is that they don’t change from within so they are disrupted from the outside. When it comes to autonomous cars, the majority of big car makers are making the right noises, but whether they really understand how autonomy will change the market is debatable. Even today, five years after Tesla launched its wireless updates for the Model S, no other major manufacturer has done the same. In other words, it doesn’t appear as if they understand the new paradigm or are able to transition towards it. Thus, we could see some of the big names in the global auto industry fall by the wayside.
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