The Field of Dreams of self driving cars

 

Who started building THIS particular “field of dreams”?

Who imposed self driving cars on the world, asks this article of 2018?

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Self-driving cars (as a concrete, marketable product) were not conceived and pushed on society by carmakers. Back in 2004 DARPA, the Pentagon’s military-technology R&D agency launched a the DARPA Grand Challenge, a 150-mile desert race reserved to driverless cars.

In 2009 a vehicles managed to finished the race, and the real buzz started. But, again, not in the automotive industry. Nor did it start because of consumer demand, or government policies.

It started among digital geeks, and their sponsors, who had just discovered another market, and a huge one, that could be only created and filled with software.

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What we see today, argues the article, is nothing but a “very explicit one-upmanship” between the automotive and software industries, driven by the “panicked, full-stop realization by the carmakers that the tech industry is about to totally eat its lunch”.

This is why (around 2018) “every major manufacturer has cozied up to autonomy startups… and aggressively announced their hot pursuit of autonomous driving technology.”

Assuming it works, of course

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Click to see original strip (December 1991!)

An expert quoted in the article argues (surprise, surprise) that “we’re in a bubble, particularly around artificial intelligence, the key tech enabling behind autonomy, [which is] generally grossly misunderstood and overrated across the business sector”.

That is the conclusion of the article. In my opinion, it may be even worst. Excessive importance given to artificial intelligence is not the only bubble carmakers have to worry about. The other big one is 5G telecom networks, for the reasons I explained here. Even more dangerous (for car manufacturers and sellers, whoever they will be) is the fact that autonomous cars are extremely likely to be much less than today, surely not enough to maintain the current level of profits. Even if 5G networks live up to hype, no: even more if they do. The reason is hidden in the article itself:

“Price will be pretty compelling, with autonomous taxi services costing 35 cents per mile - or roughly half the cost of driving a personal car today and 1/10th the cost of a taxi”

In other words, the more the makers of driverless cars maintain their promises, the less driverless cars we will all need. Because most people won’t be able to afford their own car, of whatever type, or will realize that it doesn’t make sense to carry its full burden alone. Which is exactly what I have been saying for a while now, together with proposing a solution: let’s reboot self-driving cars as mini trains.

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