The self-driving car revolution has begun. Ready or not it’s coming right at us like a freight train, and we are the damsel in distress, tied to the train tracks. So, when will we share the road with self-driving cars? Vendors at CES say we can expect them within the next two or three years. That’s incredibly fast – faster than most expected. So, are we ready?
Who will be the leaders in this space going forward? There are many in this first generation of self-driving cars. Some are car-makers, wireless carriers, smartphone makers and assorted tech companies. While everyone seems to be clamoring, only a few will be real leaders. Today, we are in the very early stages of the first-generation of the self-driving revolution.
Leaders in Self-Driving, Connected-Car, Autonomous Driving Space
Remember, the first-gen self-driving cars will be very basic. We are still very early in the learning curve. In fact, don’t believe everything you read. That’s about the future. What’s coming first is not that extensive yet.
Some day we can all be like Will Smith in the 2004 movie I, Robot, reading, watching TV or just closing our eyes while the car drives itself. However, we must first crawl before we can walk. And to tell you the truth, it may take a while for some before the human brain is willing to give up control.
First-Gen Self-Driving Cars Will Still Need a Driver
First-generation self-driving cars will still require you as the driver to be alert and engaged. Self-driving means quite a few different things to different companies. Some cars require sensors in the road. That means the rollout will be slower from city to city. Others use sensors in the car to read the road. This can be available much sooner, and is potentially less safe, at least in the early years.
There is so much noise with marketing, public relations, advertising and such that it sounds like every company is going to play a big-time role. However, while there will be so many companies in this crowded space, only a few will lead in this revolution. The next few years will be crazy in this new space. There will be plenty of noise.
Mary Barra CEO of GM Speaking of AI at IBM World of Watson
At the IBM (IBM) World of Watson event in Las Vegas a few months ago, I heard Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors (GM) give a keynote address and outlined some of what GM is doing in this new space. She talked about using IBM Watson technology in GM cars beginning with the 2017 models.
We don’t think of Watson as a technology for the self-driving car industry, but looking at what it does in healthcare, there is no reason to believe it won’t help to transform industry after industry including automotive. That’s the potential for both IBM and the auto industry.
Mercedes Benz, Lexus, Toyota, Infinity, Honda, Ford, Chrysler and Tesla
All carmakers are moving toward the self-driving revolution. Some more aggressively than others. Some will successfully make the transition, while some won’t. Luxury carmakers usually go down these new paths first, then they are followed by regular car makers. This time, things are different. Every carmaker is jumping into the IoT and wireless space. Companies like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Toyota (TM), Infinity and Honda (HMC), Ford (F), Chrysler and all the others as well.
Tesla (TSLA) is a newcomer and a leader in this new self-driving space. I heard radio talk show host Clark Howard on WSB-AM-750 radio in Atlanta, who was at CES, and on his show discussed how easy it was for him to use the self-driving features on his new Tesla. How he thought it would be difficult, but it was actually easy. Will it be that easy for all of America? For some models, yes, but not all.
AT&T Connected Car, KORE Telematics, Ingenu
We also see many other companies leading the new connected car space. Companies like AT&T (T) Connected Car, along with IoT, the Cloud and other growth areas. With AT&T rapidly growing in this space, and since this is expected to be an area of rapid growth, I expect to see major competitors step in like Verizon (VZ), Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS).
There are also many other wireless companies that can step up and provide similar connectivity. Will they? Some of them today are in the wireless M2M and IoT space. Companies like KORE Telematics which serve many, big name competitors with M2M and IoT. Or Ingenu which serves their clients with a 2G network.
I also believe other new names in this space will emerge in coming years. They will compete with traditional carmakers and traditional IoT and wireless competitors. New companies have the advantage of creating themselves from scratch in this new world. Existing leaders have the biggest challenge. They must innovate and cannibalize themselves, while protecting their market share and traditional business during the transition.
Uber Self-Driving Ride
Uber is a company that is also riding the self-driving wave. And while I get excited about what the future will bring, I also get nervous about the next several years. Would you feel comfortable stepping into a self-driving taxi? Today, most people say no. But what if the self-driving Uber world was safer than one where human drivers are behind the wheel? That’s what tomorrow is supposed to look like. Would that change your mind?
Then there are the ethical questions in this new industry. Issues we have not addressed yet. Issues we are not even aware of yet. We have few laws to govern this new area yet. Little protection.
Ethical Questions Around Self-Driving Autonomous AI Cars
For example, in a pending accident, who does the self-driving car protect – the driver or the pedestrian? There are no rights and wrongs here. This is a choice. In a mechanical world, we must create rules. In that world, who do we protect first, the driver or the pedestrian?
Mercedes-Benz says they protect the driver at the expense of the pedestrian. While this sounds harsh, this is the choice every carmaker and regulator must wrestle with. Someone must be protected, and that means others are not.
Government Cannot Adapt Quickly Enough to Self-Driving Cars
These are a few of many sticky issues we must address going forward. And once we decide, we must create regulations and laws to back them up. Then, as the years pass, we may update our thinking, laws and regulations as we learn more.
Can the government think and react quickly enough? Well… no. And that’s a problem, as the industry changes so quickly. By the time the government makes law, the industry has already moved on.
Cybersecurity for Self-Driving, Autonomous, Smart-Car
Cybersecurity is another problem. We buy virus protection software for our laptops and smartphones. ISP’s, while the assorted companies we do business with also offer protection from all the bad guys trying to break into our systems. What about the self-driving car? What if that is broken into?
The problems are real and often dangerous. What if it takes control of the vehicle? What if it causes an accident? The same continual battle in which we must protect all our information devices will now spread to our smart car. This is a real challenge, and our safety depends on getting it right.
Self-Driving Car Are Coming-Soon, Are We Ready?
This is just part of the world of self-driving cars and smart cars. It’s quite a bit to swallow and digest. These are some of the opportunities and challenges we must deal with going forward. It’s OK to get excited about what the technology can do, however, it’s just as important to look at the other side of the coin and protect ourselves going forward. That’s the challenge.
There are many areas we need to think about, debate and decide, as individuals, car makers and government regulators. This is an entirely new space. A decade from now many of these issues will be uncovered and solved, but the next decade will be filled with both chaos and excitement, accidents and exhilaration.
So, as we go through the next several years and are all wrapped up in the excitement of the self-driving world, let’s also spend time debating and deciding on the best way to handle these new challenges. And there are plenty of new challenges.
Jeff Kagan is an Equities.com columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected] His web site is www.jeffKAGAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan