A Driverless Car Future: Yay or Nay?

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“Progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things.”  – Robert A. Heinlein

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A driverless car future: yay or nay? – After years of dreams and theoretical announcements, driverless cars are finally taking it one step further. The giant step from the lab to the showroom is just around the corner. Several major car manufacturers, including Volvo cars, Ford Motor Co., BMW and Tesla Motors Inc., have all promised to develop fully autonomous cars and have them prepared for sale within five years. And it doesn’t end there.

Things Are Looking Up For Robot Cars

The prospects of a driverless car future are further confirmed thanks to Alphabet Inc., which has recently rebranded and spun off its Google Self-Driving Car Project – the famed Waymo. The company also followed up by unveiling its driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivan. And to make matters even more serious – it also revealed that negotiations are under way with Honda Motor Co. to put its technology into the Japanese automaker’s models.

The projections for the autonomy market are staggering: the Boston Consulting Group reports that the autonomy business will increase to $42 billion by 2025 and account for a quarter of global sales by 2035. Now, since the estimated time it takes to bring a car to market is around four years, the immediate hype makes a lot of sense. In other words, right now is the time to cut deals with tech partners and suppliers to outfit models with self-driving systems that will debut early next decade. Therefore, in a sense – a driverless car future is already here.

A Driverless Car Future: Used To Be Made In Japan

Although, one might ask the question why now? Why the seemingly sudden push to get robot rides on the road? One particular reason has to do with a staple of gas-electric cars: the Toyota Prius. The Toyota Motor Company pioneered the technology nearly 20 years ago, which is why the Prius is today synonymous with the word “hybrid car.” Not to mention that it still pretty much dominates the global market.

Truth be told, it’s quite understandable, even without thinking in terms of a driverless car future. Who in their right mind would want to be a competitor of the Toyota Prius? It’s a situation where one company has effectively framed the entire hybrid car experience in the buyer’s mind. Whoever comes out with another type, version, model or even idea in terms of the same thing, the buyers’ perception would likely be embodied in the question, “Oh, you make hybrids, as well?”

Progress Never Comes Without The Proverbial Bumps On The Road

Furthermore, technology also raises numerous other concerns, such as safety and then regulation and legal framework. According to a Morgan Stanley analyst, Adam Jonas, the dramatic improvements in safety that should come from semi-autonomous features the likes of automatic emergency braking will actually accelerate consumer demand for autonomy. And while we’re on the subject, the biggest accelerant for autonomy has to be Tesla. The company is already outfitting all its cars with the hardware required to enable the robot to take the wheel. That’s putting all other carmakers behind at the moment.

Additionally, a driverless car future cannot exist without the proper legal framework. To that end, U.S. regulators in December proposed new rules that cars be embedded with chips to communicate with each other to help avoid accidents. Otherwise known as V2V, vehicle-to-vehicle communications could very well make driverless cars safer and smarter in as little as five years. As a result, there will likely be more activity among automakers and more momentum in connected vehicles.

The industry as a whole is surging forward. As for its effect on the consumer – we’ll just have to wait and see.

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