Digital transformation of the transportation industry is underway, with several Big Tech companies already leading the way. Google and Uber are two of the largest upstarts in this space, but other players are also capitalizing on this moment. Tesla Motors is one of these companies, and its self-driving cars have played a key role in making progress toward making our roads safer and more accessible for everyone.
Tesla’s autonomous driving technology has been around since 2010, but it only just began to make an impact. From 2011 to 2013, there was a period of rapid growth for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft as they entered new vertical markets and disrupted incumbents. But with Uber now facing both regulatory challenges and an existential crisis, it’s left many startups scrambling to seize opportunities left or right.
Self-driving car technology is also growing at a fast pace. To keep up with demand, especially from smaller businesses looking for safe and reliable vehicles that won’t leave them high and dry when deliveries get difficult or nighttime traffic gets hectic, carmakers are investing significantly in their software development operations as well as hardware partnerships.
Let’s take a look at how self-driving cars have evolved since their conception as far back as the 1990s: from a scary futuristic concept to one of the safest ways to travel today.
The Future of Transportation Is Self-Driving
In his book, “Transportation 2020: Uniting the World’s Drivers, Passengers and Cities,” author and futurist Henrik Svensmark forecast that by the year 2020, driverless cars will be common in “more urban areas than any other type of transport.” With demand for rideshare services rapidly growing across various cities and countries, this means that self-driving cars could see widespread use soon.
Uber has been working on autonomous technology for years and recently rolled it out in Pittsburgh. The world’s first fully autonomous Uber car made its public debut in San Francisco last month.
The Challenges in Implementing Self-Driving Cars
As is the case with any new technology, the biggest hurdle in the path of self-driving cars is perception. Most motorists still don’t recognize the potential benefits of self-driving cars and are more than willing to take a chance and share the road with them. This is particularly concerning when it comes to highways and other divided traffic lanes.
Even today, some drivers are more careful than others, and it’s easy for these organizational habits to transfer over to the road. Even in environments with fully self-driving cars, situations like these cause issues. At the wheel, you’re likely to be more careful and mindful of other traffic, while not paying attention to other road users. As a result, self-driving car scofflaws could pose a danger to other drivers and pedestrians alike.
Tesla’s Decisive Step
Fortunately for all these stakeholders, Tesla has already taken the first step towards achieving mass adoption with the advent of Tesla Autopilot. In preparation for the first drivers to use Tesla Autopilot, the company first released a high-fidelity map of the state of California. This enabled Tesla drivers to predict the path taken by their cars and take evasive maneuvers.
The map also helped them anticipate potential traffic events like merge and cross-traffic lane changes, which reduced drivers’ workload by up to 50%. With Tesla Autopilot, it’s not just highway driving that gets easier. City driving also gets a significant boost, with lane departure warnings being one of the most notable examples.
Key Successful Players in Self-Driving Car Technology
Beyond the big names like Tesla and Uber, there are a number of startups and manufacturers capitalizing on this moment. These companies are either building out their own self-driving fleets or working to bring the technology to market as a supplier. Conda, an Italian firm owned by Google, is the world’s leader in vehicle-to-infrastructure technology and has been called “the Uber of self-driving.” By partnering with automakers, such as Volkswagen to bring approach LEAN-20 technology to the fore, Cabo, a rideshare company based in Spain, is also helping to democratize driverless car technology.
In the realm of AI and machine learning, companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are leading the way. These companies have been building out their AI and ML capabilities for years and are now investing in the sorts of tools that will help them achieve further milestones in this area. One of these tools is the AI-assisted software development environment called AI Studio, which has been developed by the AI foundation called The Open Hands Alliance.
With self-driving cars now being considered a realistic option by many, it’s important to remember why they were first proposed in the first place. These vehicles could have a big impact on the way we travel, but it’s important to remember that they are still in the early stages of development. The road to safer and more accessible roads will be long and winding, and the road to fully autonomous driving will be even longer. But as we move forward, we can begin to implement the necessary regulations and set the stage for an impactful change in the way we travel.