Let the self-driving car battle begin

The year in debate seems to be 2020. At least that has been announced as the finish line for many companies working on self-driving cars. Most have listed 2020 as the target date to have fully functional and deliverable self-driving cars.

Some of the major players are the ones you would expect, auto manufacturers. Volvo, Ford, Audi, BMW, Tesla are just a few car manufacturers joining the self-driving car race. On the surface they may seem like the most logical companies that should be in this market, but they may not really be the ones to benefit most.

From a sales sense, car manufacturers have a reason to get into the foray lest they be left behind by their competitors, but will making self-driving cars really increase their sales? If someone is not in the market to buy a new car, chances are they are not going to go buy one just because it is self-driving. Most likely that person will wait until it is time for a new car and buy one then.

So the net new number of cars sold is probably close to zero. The difference will be which car they buy and that will be based on features and costs which it always has been.

So who really benefits from self-driving technology? My money is on the service industry.

I will start with our own company as an example. We provide incredibly awesome IT service and as part of that service we occasionally need to go to a location to deliver equipment. The real expense in this is the engineer who is behind the wheel.

If we had a self-driving vehicle we could just program in the destination, have the client load the equipment in and send it back to us. That is a huge time and money savings for us. We would most likely have to put some kind of giant stuffed gorilla wearing a Braver shirt behind the wheel just so the clients knew it was us. But stuffed gorillas are a significant cost savings over our incredibly good looking staff.

Of course our benefits of this technology are minor compared to some industries. Picture tractor trailers going cross country filled with merchandise and nothing else.

Volvo has not only imagined it they have already begun development. Volvo has already fitted semi-tractor trailers with self-driving technology and also hopes to have this ready by 2020.

Another beneficiary is the taxi and ride sharing service companies. Uber has already made huge investments in its’ automated driving and has tested it in two cities. Unfortunately, one of those cities, San Francisco was not enthusiastic when Uber openly refused to pay the $150 autonomous vehicle permit required by the city even after the DMV’s general counsel wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Uber threatening legal action.

 

There were other problems for Uber as well. Several accidents were reportedly caused by their self-driving vehicles one listed the car as running a red light. Uber is disputing and / or reviewing these claims depending on the article your read.

Another big player in self-driving cars for quite some time has been Google. Google has yet to deliver anything noteworthy but they have a reputation of either dropping or chasing a product. Once they decide to chase it, they are relentless in pursuit of dominance.

 

One proof of this pursuit is their recent court battles with Uber over the technology in self-driving cars. Google claims that Uber snatched one of its chief architects and in addition its proprietary technology. It’s an odd move considering Google was an early investor in Uber and served on its board.

The last major note to mention is Tesla who is investing very heavily in the technology of self-driving cars. There was sadly a major accident reported by someone whose self-driving car was involved in a crash because the sensors could not see through the solar glare.

So when everything is settled where will this leave the industry? Here’s my ultimate guess. I think driverless cars will one day be as common as the automatic transmission. Gradually cars will become standard with the technology until all that is left are people who still like the feel of a steering wheel in their hands and a sense of control, or someone who owns a car (soon to be referred to as “antiques” ) which predates the technology. I love to drive a standard and have the thrill of shifting gears manually but being able to eat my egg McMuffin while driving doesn’t suck ether.

 

Kenny Rounds

Braver Technology Solutions LLC