This time last year, I posed the question: how close are we really before automated vehicles hit the mass market? One year on, are we any closer?
The second week in January heralded the return of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This show is accepted in the industry as the overriding display of cutting edge technology – any technology company you have heard of (and many others besides) make a loud showing in earnest.
Conversely, the Detroit Motor Show didn’t create the same hype this year. In previous years, the Detroit Motor Show has been viewed as the annual cornerstone of motoring events. This year however it took place the week after CES and thus caused much less of a stir, mainly because all of the ground-breaking announcements had already been shared the week prior. In fact, I believe this demonstrates a shift in focus when it comes to Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) – technology firms have overtaken automakers.
To add further food for thought, the headlines from the 2012 CES were the iPad 3 and the world’s first 4k handheld camcorder (cam-what?). The headlines from the 2016 showing were, in parts, similar – from a new Youtube subscription service, to walking talking robots. However the main theme at CES this year was, as anticipated, a shift towards automotive technology. The most important noises coming from CES included:
- Toyota’s $1bn commitment to a new automated driving and artificial intelligence unit.
- Ford and Tesla’s announcement that they hope to have commercially available Autonomous Vehicles by 2020 (or earlier) that can operate in all weather conditions.
- General Motors announcement of a $500m investment in Lyft, Uber’s main rival in the Taxi market.
- BMW, Daimler and VW jointly clubbed together to buy Here, a rival mapping service to Google Maps, for $3.1bn.
- NVIDIA, a chip maker, announced “the world’s first in-car artificial intelligence supercomputer” – a powerful lunchbox sized device.
- Velodyne, the market leading maker of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), unveiled their powerful new version small enough to fit inside each wing mirror.
Indeed, the mere fact that all those automobile CEOs were presenting at the Consumer Electronics Show in the first place tells its own tectonic-plate shifting story. But focusing in on those last two points, we can start to make the argument that technology firms have overtaken automobile firms in the race to driverless cars.The car of the near-future will probably run on NVIDIDA brains and Velodyne eyes.This trend is evident elsewhere; just look at Android Auto, Bosch driver-assistance, Apple Carplay, Google’s driverless car – the list goes on. And yes, that is the same Bosch who make your washing machine. Even Tesla’s EMEA CEO Georg Ell reiterated that they are a “technology firm first and foremost”.
So where does this leave the road to driverless cars? Before answering this question, we must first look outside this sphere into the wider geopolitical economy – the dramatic fall of oil prices from $110 per barrel 18 months ago to under $30 today has led (and will continue to lead) to limited demand for hybrid/electric cars, the technology and concept of which is intrinsically linked to AVs. The consumer demand, then, for petrol cars appears to suggest that this crash will affect automaker’s strategy the most. Surely then, if not already, it will be the technology firms who are kings of the road.
Disclaimer: WiThink is written from a personal perspective. All views and opinions are those of the author.