Driving Change: The Autonomous Era

The view from the robo-driver, using machine learning to recognize objects. (Waymo)

Autonomous vehicles are driving the tech scene into a new era for both big players and startups. The emerging market, projected to be worth $5 trillion by 2030, has had a large following over the years with companies such as Google, Uber, Lyft, and others.

Google has long been a pioneer in the space, according to Theo Strauss’ article. They’ve been helping change the industry from 2001, where they started Google Street View, to recently with their child company Waymo, who has driven and 3D modeled 9 million+ miles over the course of 9 years.

Self-driving cars run off of an extensive amount of software, based on data input and output. In this sense, these cars require data to recognize objects by what they usually look like and know what to do in certain situations, recognizing patterns and correlations. On the flip side, these cars output data of events that they encounter and collect through cameras, sensors, lidar, and more, to help improve their own system: similar to how a human learns.

In the present time, having a human behind the wheel while the car gathers information and 3D models the roads helps the accuracy of how these future autonomous vehicles will tell apart things such as stop signs, traffic lights, people, you name it. However, the emergence of the technology has made these 3D maps a hot commodity.

Strauss’ dives into how startups such as Cruise, drive.ai, Zoox, and Blue Vision have created an increasingly competitive market. Being in the realm of machine learning and data science, the leaders in the space will be those that own the most data.

On a large scale, the concept of autonomous vehicles is incredibly powerful and exciting. Parallel with other applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is one that will continue to change how we look at transportation and potentially become one of the greatest technologies of the current time.

The emergence of the market combined with virtual reality will add a plethora of jobs in all ranges of expertise. For example, designers can already see the rise of three-dimensional interfaces. Just as we’ve seen with the rise of content and data in the two-dimensional world of apps and websites, the increase of data in the three-dimensional space will spark a rise in designers that specialize in Virtual Reality Design.

Figure 1 (Rocky Mountain Institute)

As with the emergence of any new technology, there arise skepticisms and doubts. With autonomous driving, one, in particular, is the lack of trust in the technology and the perception that self-driving cars are more unsafe than the human eye. In fact, however, when analyzing Waymo’s crashes and the safety of autonomous vehicles, it’s astonishing to see how well they perform in comparison to the human averages (Figure 1). All thanks to the incredible use of data.

The future for this field is exhilarating, not only for transportation purposes but from a technology and data standpoint. Well known players in the transportation game have already taken up initiatives, but it will definitely be a learning curve for consumers outside of the loop to adjust to.

Technology similar to this has driven industries and changed the way people live, despite the population’s doubts and skepticisms. That’s why getting in an Uber with a stranger or renting a room in a stranger’s Airbnb are considered norms in this day in age. Whether the population likes it or not, the tech companies that they interact with every day are investing in autonomous driving.

It’s something that’s going to change our lives, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.