The Eve of the Self-Driving Revolution

A decade ago, there wasn’t much talk about self-driving cars or autonomous-cars, but Toyota and Lexus were setting the stage with their self-parking cars. They aired television commercials showing how cars magically parallel-parked themselves. That was before any mention of the first iPhone or Android. At the time, it seemed amazing, but that was nothing compared to what’s coming next.

The self-parking revolution that spread throughout the automotive industry over the last decade is now expanding. There is more technology in cars today than ever before: navigation systems, automatic updates wirelessly downloaded to the dashboard, in-cabin WiFi and much more.

Self-Driving Levels

The market for self-driving cars, or autonomous cars, is going to be huge, but it will grow in stages. Autos with these technologies will roll out at different levels and at different times. There’s a problem with the terminology, though. The terms “self-driving” and “autonomous” often are used loosely, but they mean different things. It is going to take a while for these high-tech cars to arrive, and it will be a staggered rollout.

Some cars will be completely self-driving — you’ll be able to read, work or even nap while on a trip. It will be a while before they’re widely available, though. Other cars will have certain helpful features, but drivers will have to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. Some cars will be limited to doing a few things on their own — like parking. Yet they are all considered “autonomous” vehicles.

Some of these technologies are already available or ready to roll out. Others will require infrastructure buildout — things like sensors in the roads, updated satellites and wireless systems. That means companies, cities and governments will have to make long-term investments in their roadways and technologies.

Growth Opportunities

This exciting new self-driving space relies heavily on artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, wireless tech and the cloud. The car makers will blow their autonomous horns as loud as they can to attract attention to themselves with customers and investors. This could lead to some confusion. Companies likely will use the same terminology in their marketing of many different offerings.

The self-driving trend represents a huge growth opportunity for the wireless industry — for carriers like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, and handset makers like Apple, Google, Samsung, HTC, Xiaomi, Sony, LG, HTC and others.

It will be up to consumers to get smart about what this revolution means for each company, each car and each person. If you line up five different manufacturers and cars, you will have five different technologies to understand. You’ll have to educate yourself if you want to understand the various next-gen self-driving options.

Self-Driving Car Safety Decisions

One issue that’s going to require a lot of reassurance is safety.

For example, if an accident involving a self-driving car is inevitable, how does the artificial intelligence determine which maneuver would be the least harmful? Motorists already face this dilemma at times, often with just seconds to decide. Are we ready to turn over this life-or-death decision making to technology?

Ready or not, autonomous cars are coming. Fortunes will be made and technology will advance. As they roll out, some will be far more advanced than others, and questions we haven’t even thought of will arise as this industry develops.

In the early years, all a company will have to say is that it is in the self-driving or autonomous driving space, and it will attract investors and workers. Over time, as we all get smarter about it, the doers will stand out from the talkers. Right now, we are still in the talking stage.

Jeff Kagan

Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.

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