Enrique Dans
Published in

Enrique Dans

IMAGE: Waymo

In case you haven’t heard: autonomous driving is already here

For some years now, the date of 2020 has been an arbitrary milestone, the moment when being transported by a self-driving vehicle would be normal in more and more cities around the world. That prediction, that scenario typically prompted denials from short-sighted people unable to understand the exponential development of technology and who preferred to believe that autonomous driving would always be a thing of the future.

But technology and competition are nothing if not stubborn. We are in 2018, and the pioneering city of Phoenix, Arizona, where pioneer and leader in the field, Waymo, began testing autonomous vehicles without a safety driver in November 2017 is now being joined by more than 20 US cities, chosen according to their weather and road conditions, while other brands carry out tests in other cities around the world.

In Arizona, driverless taxis are now due to start functioning normally in a few months. At the same time, Yandex is testing in Moscow, Intel in Jerusalem and closing deals for eight million vehicles with European car companies, while Drive.ai vehicles are on the roads of Texas without a driver, while Apple has a fleet of 55 vehicles driving in California, Lyft is operating in Las Vegas, and MIT has just built a vehicle capable of driving autonomously on unmapped in rural areas.

China deserves a special mention: all the usual suspects are developing their own cars and tests. Alibaba is developing its own cars and tests. Apollo, Baidu’s open platform, has enrolled more than 90 partner companies. Tencent is testing in Beijing, Didi Chuxing is authorized to tests its self-driving cars in California, and practically all China’s technology companies are working on autonomous driving as part of a national project that includes 5G, aimed at alleviating two of the country’s biggest problems: air pollution and traffic congestion.

With self-driving vehicles now on the roads of growing numbers of cities around the world, a leader in the form of Waymo, a wide range of competitors, businesses focused on self-driving technology, transportation not just for people but goods, it’s pretty clear that autonomous driving is no longer the future, but the present.

The naysayers will continue to insist we are still in the test phase, that the time frames being talked about can never be met or that huge legal changes are required, when the reality is that when technology demonstrates clear advantages, governments aware of the dangers of being left behind can soon change laws. Next will come sales and marketing, competition between cities to attract investors, along with companies able to make autonomous driving a tangible reality, as well as feasibility studies based on the size of cities and how their residents currently move from A to B, and of course, competition to see who deploys what and where.

The future is already here, and we have to keep it in mind in our business strategies, regardless of the sector: logistics, tourism, transport, insurance, urban planning… Let’s get thinking about the next challenge.

(En español, aquí)

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On the effects of technology and innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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Enrique Dans

Enrique Dans

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

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