The Brilliance of Tesla’s Autopilot: GE’s Next Opportunity

As technology progresses, the unimaginable becomes tangible! Not too long ago, GPS was considered bleeding edge technology and we thought we were living in the future simply by being able to locate ourselves on the earth’s surface. Fast forward to today, GPS has become a relatively standard feature on new cars. 20 years ago, we never would have imagined autopilot cars would exist. Today, they are here. Now, we can even tell a car where we want to go and it will take us there, rather than give directions!

As autopilot cars have begun entering the market, several varying opinions regarding the autopilot feature have emerged. Videos have surfaced with drivers (or passengers rather) testing the autopilot feature while performing several activities, such as: intensely eating snacks, playing board games, and practically anything but driving or paying attention to the road. There was even a video that captured a driver napping behind the wheel of a Tesla autopilot car. The benefits to having such a feature are limitless & concerning!

Autopilot will allow drivers to be more productive during their daily commute to and from work, they will be able finish assignments or reports on the way, read a book, or even capitalize on getting more sleep traveling to the office. On the other hand, while some may rejoice at the convenience of having autopilot cars, others are skeptical of the potential dangers they present on the road. There was one reported death from a high-speed accident while using the autopilot feature earlier this year. Reports show the driver was going about 9 miles per hour above the speed limit moments before the accident. Despite this isolated incident, Tesla’s autopilot has proven itself to be rather safe and reliable overall. Autopilot has actually been proven to reduce the amount of accidents, whether caused by auto-piloted cars or by other drivers hitting an auto-piloted car. I think it’s safe to say, most of us can agree, that the technology is nothing short of amazing.

How does it work?

Tesla uses sensors on its vehicles to understand the environment in real-time. This real-time processing dictates when to steer, turn, stop, slow down, and avoid other cars on the road. The sensors read 16 feet ahead of the vehicle in all directions and can analyze and predict the car’s next move based on previous traffic patterns meshed with present environmental conditions. These predictions also help to avoid abrupt stops, lane changes, and potential crashes. A forward-facing camera is another key piece of hardware used to make autopilot possible as it detects the traffic patterns, stop signs, pedestrians, and whatever else the car needs to be aware of.

What does this mean for us?

As autopilot technology eventually begins to dominate the automobile industry, it’s inevitable that it will make its way into other means of transportation. There are countless opportunities for GE to leverage what Tesla is doing with this autopilot technology. Renewables is currently developing self-controlled wind turbines that adjust based on weather patterns. In Oil & Gas, Predix is being leveraged to connect various machines install-bases to enable predictive maintenance. Down the line, we could see even more exciting technologies emerge, such as self-drilling wells that don’t require human interaction. Just think what we could leverage in the aviation industry — years down the line will there be a need for pilots?

Along with the cool autopilot feature, Tesla vehicles are also much more environmentally friendly than gas powered cars. Could we use similar technologies to make fuel consumption in aviation cleaner, or even battery powered? Patients under critical conditions at hospitals could be carted to where they need to go by self-driven hospital beds, rather than having doctors rush to their room. These are just a few among countless other opportunities where autopilot technologies can be used to take each of our GE businesses to the next level. It will be exciting to see what happens in the upcoming decades with GE and technology!


This article was written by Chris Terry, a 3rd rotation DTLP in Oil & Gas