Monday, 13 May 2013

The Economist: Driverless Cars – Look, no hands

Driverless cars is a very interesting field to me, and this week The Economist posted a good article on the prospects of this technology.

To me, here are a few things about electronic-fy the car that excites me:

  1. Sensors/Analytics: the car can now serve as an endpoint for collecting ever precise data about traffic and driving patterns for analysis and optimization, be it public urban planning or private insurance offerings
  2. Autonomy: with the cars able to drive themselves, automobiles are no longer bounded by the movement of its owners the way they are today, and with the ability to never forget learned lessons, algorithms will get better and better at driving over the long run also
  3. Interconnectedness: the ability to communicate not just with centralized points such as emergency services but with other cars in proximity allows the car “network” to be more responsive in human mobility needs

In all, the potential for advances in such fields to turn automotive from an ownership to a service paradigm/business model is quite exciting.  Driving is getting more difficult, and as has happened before, once rules for certain aspect of driving becomes concrete enough and algorithms can outperform a human driver in decision quality, while doing so with a feasible price tag, the technology will make more inroads to popular use.

When we get to that point, perhaps a few more interesting questions will then arise.  Could it be possible that the hardware of a common sedan be so commoditized that a large portion of the value of a car come from the software?  Long time ago, IBM thought hardware constituted the core value of the computing industry.  Could the same be said of cars now or in the future?  What role will software play in the long run on the dynamic and diverse behaviour of the future cars to come?

Interesting questions indeed.

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