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2017: The Year of Self-driving Car

Picture source: dxlab design

My Tesla is like a phone on wheels.

Vivek Wadhwa

What is self-driving car? According to Wikipedia, A self-driving car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Considering the name of "self-driving car", it's easy to regard it simply as a car that can drive by itself. But why do Google, Uber, Baidu, BMW, Tesla invest billions of dollars just want to make car drive by itself? That is because the self-driving car will thoroughly change the way we live and bring disruptions to current industries.

Before understanding the changes and disruptions that self-driving car will cause, we need to figure out what the self-driving car truly is.

According to Los Angeles Times analysis to Google's self-driving car Waymo, the project graduated from Google X, self-driving car is using sensors (GPS, lasers, etc.) to get surrounding data, AI technologies to analyze data, and give instructions to car for self-driving.

So the basic two components for self-driving car are: car with sensors and AI technology. But when it becomes popular as a consumer electronic, people ask for more: Internet.

In my opinion, the self-driving car will be a convergence of car, AI, and Internet. The combination of three components or any two of them leads to magic imagination of what our new lives will be with self-driving car.

To begin with, the combination of car and Internet is a new type of consumer electronic, like a phone on wheels. What do we usually use phone to do? We use phone to make phone calls, send message, watch videos, play games, take photos, and surf the Internet. If a car frees my hands, gives me a big screen, and connects to the Internet, I will throw away my iPhone when I'm in the car. At that time, self-driving car is not just regarded as a transportation tool, it's also a consumer device, like your phone, pad, and computer.

Secondly, the combination of car and AI creates a new living space — smart car space. On one hand, AI helps car to drive by itself, so human being are free to do other things in car. In the CES 2017, I noticed that most car makers have already noticed it and put books, TVs in the car, indicating that self-driving car will be a new living space for human being. On the other hand, AI makes this living space smart. This is a similar process with how we make our home smart: AI added to home to make home smart enough to cook coffee when we awake, open curtains when we get up, and give dressing suggestions according to the weather.

Finally, the combination of AI and Internet in car makes a new intelligent companion, like Siri, Cortana, and Amazon Dot. Most of us have already got used to the existence of Siri, Cortana, even Amazon Dot. The investment to "Virtual companion" has increased markedly since 2012 according to N+1 trends by CB Insights. Two clear use cases are emotional companionship & gamified education for children and mental health & nursing for the elderly. The self-driving car has the potential to be the next intelligent companion.

Self-driving car not only changes the way we live, but also causes great disruption to current industries.

  • Car sale: Self-driving car leads to more realistic car sharing solutions than Uber. In near future, there is no need to buy a car. People buy cars for interests, not for real need. The sale of personalized car will increase and that of normal car will decrease.
  • Insurance: Self-driving car makes road safe. The insurance industry will be affected because there is no need to keep car insurance and traffic accident insurance.
  • Mass media: Users of self-driving cars will soon require high-speed Internet signal and call signal for moving object, which is still a difficulty to be solved.
  • Transportation. Drivers will lose their job. Car parking problem, speed limit, and traffic jam will no longer exist. DMV will be largely impacted.
  • Entertainment. Self-driving cars create great opportunities for entertainment industry to grow because it gives them a new entertainment center to decorate.
  • Law. New law for self-driving cars will be published. And some profound, even philosophical questions will emerge. For example, who should be blamed for self-driving accident? (the people in car or the engineer developing car driving algorithms?) For the first time, AI owns the ability to threaten life of human being, and whether to legalize this technology will be extremely controversial.

2017 is the year of self-driving car. We've seen many cute Waymo cars on the road of Silicon Valley. We will see more self-driving cars in 2017 and the great impacts it will cause to our lives, industries, and the whole world.