|Tech companies jumped on the autonomous driving bandwagon in 2018 / Photo Credit: Robert Cicchetti (via Shutterstock)|
Ed Niedermeyer of startup and technology news site TechCrunch rode in an autonomous vehicle in October, navigating busy city streets, making a left-hand turn, and even reaching a speed of 45 mph, wrote Jon Markman of business news Forbes. No safety engineer was aboard the vehicle. According to Niedermeyer, it was an uneventful yet remarkable ride in a Waymo self-driving vehicle. To Markman, “it’s a glimpse of the future” and investors should pay attention.
Self-driving cars were all the rage last year, with tech companies like Apple jumping on the bandwagon. The auto shows were filled with extravagant concepts that featured flat screens and lounge seating. Many of them did not have steering wheels. The ultralightweight and sleek glass prototypes made it seem like they came straight from a science fiction film. But this year, self-driving vehicles are taking over the wheel, and Waymo has been working in the autonomous driving field for 10 years.
It started when Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin asked a number of gifted engineers to “work out the math for vehicle automation.” Brin promised an operational vehicle by 2017 back in 2012. Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, became the first rider in a fully autonomous driving vehicle on public roads in 2015. But automation is not always about Netflix and chill. It is also about altering the business models surrounding transportation. If cars and light trucks were fully autonomous, then people would not need to own a vehicle.
Passengers would just a vehicle using their smart device, set their destination, and pay for the service without any human aboard the vehicle. Scrapping ownership would also get rid of maintenance, fuel, and insurance costs, as well as the cost of professional drivers. The evolution of this model would be taken negatively by automakers and their suppliers, energy, and insurance firms.
But for others, automation is a big opportunity, and it appears that Waymo is working on autonomous vehicles. Niedermeyer said that Waymo’s Pacifica minivan navigated to his destination near a park in Chandler, Arizona. He stated that it was hard to tell the minivan “was not being driven by a human.” For now, autonomous driving in Arizona will only take place in “specific geofenced sections of Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe.” We will get to see a fleet of self-driving vehicles sooner than later.