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The Year of Connected and Self-Driving Cars

By Jeff Kagan
Jan 21, 2016 9:00 AM PT
google-self-driving-car

Connected cars and self-driving cars are two of the hottest and fastest-growing segments in the marketplace today. However, they are often confused. Connected cars are here today. Self-driving cars are not yet, but they are coming. They both mean advancements in automotive. They both use wireless networks, wireless technology, satellite technology, ground-based sensors and more. As workers, investors and customers, what can we expect in the next few years from connected and self-driving cars -- and what's coming next?

A wide variety of companies -- large and small, and from many different areas -- will play an important role in this new space during the next decade. Some companies and technologies you may never hear about. Think about this like the insides of a smartphone. There are many companies that make different technologies that make these devices work -- many we don't even realize. The same is true with connected cars and self-driving cars.

Companies on the Growth Side of the Wave

Connected and self-driving car technologies are on the growth side of the wave and will be for years. They're not on the cresting side or the falling side. That is great news for companies, workers, investors, partners, customers and users in the entire segment.

However, it does not mean every company will be on the growth side of the wave. Some may start there and then lose their way as technologies change and the industry matures over time. Others may stay in a leadership position. It's important to know each company and not to make assumptions before risking your money or your career.

Range of Wireless Connectivity

There is a wide range of wireless connectivity available today, depending on the car. Today, some automobile manufacturers are much further ahead than others, but that always has been the case. Remember when navigation screens on the dashboard first brought GPS to the driver? Fifteen years ago, that was available only on top-level cars like Lexus or Mercedes, but today it is available on every car in every price range, down to the smallest automobiles.

This is what happens when any type of new technology enters the automotive space. It starts with top-level cars, and then over the next several years spreads rapidly to the entire industry. That's what I am expecting with the connected car and self-driving revolution.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin. As your car gets smarter and communicates using wireless, you may be tracked. Think about it like your smartphone. Today's smartphones can tell where we are and remember where we've been. That's right -- we are never alone and private any longer -- something to keep in mind.

Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars are in a category all their own. That technology is not ready for prime time yet, but it's getting there. We've seen driverless cars in movies like iRobot and Back to the Future II -- and in the animated '60s series The Jetsons.

So, we have been aware of self-driving cars as a possibility for a long time. Finally, they are in the early stages of development. However, before they reach consumers, they must be safe. The government must be brought up to speed. Laws must be changed. Safety technologies, like monitors and sensors, must be installed in roadways from coast to coast. There is still quite a bit of work to be done, but it is coming.

Companies like Google are moving rapidly in this new direction. Many other large companies likely will enter this space as well, like Tesla, Microsoft, other auto makers and more. Some will go it alone while others will partner, but this will be an explosive space going forward.

As always, I expect the segment to be explosive with growth, but that does not mean every company will share in the growth. There will be differences between winners and losers, so you must stay alert.

I also expect to see many smaller and lesser-known companies with new technologies in this space. It will be interesting to see which ones gain traction and which simply fade away. Any way you slice it, this is an exciting time.

Imagine getting into your car and telling it where to drive you. Then you sit back and read or work or watch wireless TV without paying attention to the road. That is where we are heading.

As the technology advances in the automotive space and the wireless space, more of these kinds of industry reinventions will take place -- not just in self-driving cars, but in everything you'll be able to do in a self-driving car. The entire driving experience will change. We may not even need driver's licenses any longer. After all, who will be driving? Imagine that.

Advancements in Connected Cars

What about connected cars? They are not really new. We have had connected cars for years. It's just that today's connected cars are much more advanced. Today, instead of basic navigation and traffic, we also have connectivity to the weather, news, social networks, texting, the Internet and more.

Both the connected car space and the self-driving car space are two of the hottest and newest areas that will show real growth over the next decade. Fortunes will be made. Careers will be built. Technologies will continually change. Industry leadership will continually change.

These opportunities are real -- but so are the risks. However, this will be one of the really hot spots during the next several years.

Today we can drive and get all sorts of Internet-based information during the trip. Today we can let our kids watch television or movies on TV screens. Today we are starting to offer WiFi hot spots for every rider in the car. This empowers us to use our own smartphones, tablets and laptops, as well as other connected devices, to go online to play or work while on the road.

Stay on the Growth Side of the Wave

Making sure you know which companies and technologies are on the growing side of the wave is key. A single company can stay on the growth side of the wave if it continually innovates, bringing new ideas to the marketplace. However, most do not. This is a marketplace where leaders must fight to remain leaders, and new companies must fight to gain the spotlight.

Still, the opportunities for growth are huge. Connected car and self-driving car technologies are on the growth side of the wave, and that is great news for investors, workers, partners -- and of course, customers -- for many years to come.


E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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