My thoughts on Self-Driving Cars

On my visit to Canada a couple of months ago I did Uber to commute to work everyday, and on one of those trips I was talking to this Uber driver from Pakistan and he was telling me that he read an article about self-driving cars that Uber was starting to do tests with, and he asked me: “what am I going to do if this thing actually happens? I’ve been driving my whole life”.

I didn’t had an answer to his question, since I know this is actually going to happen and it will have a direct impact on drivers employment. The world’s labor force in transportation is today around 1% of the population; 70 million people on a global scaleand around 3.6 million in the US.

So, it is a big deal. Autonomous cars are a big deal. And it’s happening.

Travis Kalanick who’s Uber CEO, says that drivers shouldn’t be worry, as complete new sub-industries and jobs will emerge from this forthcoming technological revolution. But, on the other hand, The World Economic Forum says a net loss of 5 million jobs globally by 2020, across many industries due to artificial intelligence and automation.

There’s no question that 2016 has been a great year for cars tech AI, and even more September since fleets of driverless cars are hitting the streets this month from many vendors such as Uber, Google, Ford, Lyft and many others that I will talk about.

But, why is there so much heap on this autonomous cars thing?. It’s clear to me: we’ve built our cities entirely around cars. And for the most part, we’ve built them for cars that aren’t even moving. The average vehicle is used only 4% of the time and 96% parked, so self-driving cars can do that 4% for us and we can get rid of so many parking lots.

It would be a world with less traffic and less pollution. That means we can get our streets narrowed and sidewalks widened, more space for biking and walking, as well more space for building new houses, which are extremely expensive these days since there’s no space for building them.

In a very futuristic vision, we won’t own cars anymore, we can just use one on demand when needed, so that means we as citizens do not have to worry about car maintenance, car gasoline, car insurance, car debt or anything else around cars, just as we use a train or a bus, but autonomous.

As you can image, car manufactures companies will be truly affected by self-driving autonomous cars, since people will stop buying cars because they won’t need them anymore, so they are part of the companies behind bringing self-driving cars into live.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes the transition to autonomous vehicles will happen through a network of autonomous car owners renting their vehicles to others. Elon is right that a network of vehicles is critical, but the transition to an autonomous future will not occur primarily through individually owned cars, so that means not only car manufactures companies are on this, but also ride sharing companies like Uber, Lyft, Flinc, RideCell and Zendrive, Nutonomy, Gett, Didi, among others are competing on self-driving cars.

Last but not least, a self-driving car is not only powered by the car itself (provided by a car manufacturer company) and the platforms around it but also the brain that makes it autonomous. The artificial intelligence (a combination of deep learning, data processing, computer vision, controllers, kinematic, hardware and sensors) so also computer and technology companies are on this area too like Google and Apple (in theory) working on autonomous vehicles.

So, who are behind this and what they are doing ?

Tesla with 100,000 miles and 19" Cyclone wheels


Tesla has been the pioneer on autonomous cars for a while now. They design, manufactures, and sells electric cars, develop their own software and platform so they don’t really have partnered with any big manufacturer company or technology company.

Tesla doesn’t sell themselves like a self-driving car company, instead as an electric cars company, but their autopilot mode can be considered an autonomous engine since it uses sensors, controllers, computer vision and deep learning to autopilot the car.

But still, the car doesn’t drive on itself, you need to be sit on the driver’s seat and “help” the car. The thinking behind autopilot is that you don’t have to watch the car ahead of you quite so closely at all times when on the motorway. The result, says Tesla, is that you as the driver will be more alert when it comes to actual driving on twisty roads and in town. Then there’s the whole human error thing that autonomous mode reduces.

While it’s autonomous, however, you’re still legally not allowed to check your phone, have a nap, or play video games.

But despite this, it’s a great car to go autonomous on 2016, I recently read an article about a guy who used his Tesla car for a 48 State Road trip, 500 Uber Rides, 20 Rentals & 2 AirBnB sleepovers for a total of 100,000 miles, it worth the time.

Who is Tesla partnering with or getting vesting from ?

Actually, no one. As I mentioned, for building their autonomous cars they are managing design, manufacturing, software and selling and they are getting their investments from Elon Musk (CEO) and company’s revenue.

Do I think Tesla can lead the autonomous cars market ?

No, I believe others are way ahead even though Tesla is the only one selling autonomous cars on 2016.

Uber tests a self-driving car in Pittsburgh last month.


Uber is one of the most important companies doing big things around self-driving cars.

The big online transportation network company has launched about a dozen of autonomous taxis this week on Pittsburgh, with the expectation of having 100 on the road by the end of the year. It’s well known that Uber has been working and testing on this self-driving cars for a while now, and they are betting all their effort and money on it.

Uber is rushing ahead with the technology because automated driving promises to upend the taxi industry by removing the need for human drivers. The company has lost billions of dollars in recent years offering incentives to drivers in order to increase its market share. However, the technology is still nascent, and it remains unclear how quickly drivers could be removed from the equation.

Trucks are also on Uber’s radar, since they acquired Otto, a startup focused on creating a computer copilot that can let a trucker sleep during long stretches of highway driving, so this means Uber is not only on the people rides business, they are opening their scope.

Who is Uber partnering with or getting vesting from ?

Volkswagen and Toyota have partnered with Uber making corporate minority investments (amount undisclosed) and working together to build their self-driving cars. As mentioned above, Uber also acquired Otto on the truck market.

Do I think Uber can lead the autonomous cars market ?

Yes, I believe Uber will be one of the market leaders on self-driving cars. They have the necessary framework and they are doing great and fast progress.

Lyft app requesting an autonomous car


Lyft is biggest Uber’s competitor. They offer a lot of personal transportation services and mobility-as-a-service and supplanting traditional ownership models.

Although they are not testing self-driving cars, they are doing development on this area and they are betting on partnering with manufactures companies to prototype their ideas.

What they do have is a clear vision of how they will proceed on this market, according to John Zimmer, Lyft Co-Founder, for the next five to 10 years there will be both driver and driverless cars on the road, which they call a hybrid network.

Credit: Lyft

They want to get to their second phase, or hybrid period, which will be defined by a mix of limited capability autonomous vehicles operating alongside human-driven ones. At first, fully autonomous cars will have a long list of restrictions. They will only travel at low speeds, they will avoid certain weather conditions, and there will be specific intersections and roads that they will need to navigate around. As technology improves, these cars will be able to drive themselves in more and more situations.

Who is Lyft partnering with or getting vesting from ?

Last January, Lyft announced a partnership with General Motors to launch an on-demand network of autonomous vehicles. For those who live in San Francisco or Phoenix, they may start to see these cars on the road in the next months, and within five years a fully autonomous fleet of cars will provide the majority of Lyft rides across the country.

Chevy Bolt vehicles on track to be trialed with Lyft within a year.

Do I think Lyft can lead the autonomous cars market ?

Yes, I believe Lyft has a great cornerstone to rapidly grow on this market and they are partnering with General Motors, who is one of the car manufacturers companies who are investing the most on this area, not only with Lyft but also doing vesting for another startups who I will mention later.

Ford’s self-driving car street recognition visualization


One of the biggest car manufacturers of the world, Ford, is doing a lot of work on self-driving cars as well.

Henry Ford never imagined cars would someday drive themselves, although Ford envisioned a “time when almost every family will have a small plane in their backyard.”

12 years ago, Ford started developing autonomous technologies with U.S. research agency DARPA. And this week, Ford demonstrated its self-driving cars for the first time at its headquarters in downtown Detroit.

The car was tested with obstacles along various points of the trip; crosswalks, stop signs, stop lights, and so on. Mundane interruptions unlike the dense, chaotic city environments autonomous cars are expected to initially target in five years.

Who is Ford partnering with or getting vesting from ?

Ford knows they are a car manufacturer company and they lack on AI capabilities to create their self-driving cars, so they acquired the in-car software startup Livio in September 2013 to improve the connectivity of its vehicle.

Ford has also invested in mapping (Civil Maps), LiDAR (Velodyne, with Baidu), and computer vision (Nirenberg Neuroscience), while also acquiring the Israeli startup SAIPS for self-driving machine learning.

Do I think Ford can lead the autonomous cars market ?

Yes, Ford seams to have a strong marketplace and is trusted by their customers and they are doing investments on the right places. Hopefully the execution of their vision goes on a correct path as well.

Google self-driving car vision after being crashed


The giant internet monster company is on the self-driving car for a while now. They’ve been using self-driving car for their StreetMap view which takes 360 photos for the google maps and places applications.

Google claims to be a pioneer on self-driving cars since 2009 with more than 1.5 million miles and are currently out on the streets of Mountain View, CA, Austin, TX, Kirkland, WA and Metro Phoenix, AZ.

Their testing fleet includes both modified Lexus SUVs and new prototype vehicles that are designed from the ground up to be fully self-driving. There are test drivers aboard all vehicles for now, according to their website.

Who is Google partnering with or getting vesting from ?

In May, Google struck a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) the seventh-largest automaker in the world who builds Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Lancia, Ram, SRT and Maserati — so as you can imagine this is a big deal partnership.

The details of the partnership are not clear yet, but we can expect a lot from google and FAC manufacturer.

Do I think Google can lead the autonomous cars market ?

Totally yes, it’s one of my favourites.


Until today, all we knew about Apple on the self-driving cars area was that they committed $1B to the Chinese ride-sharing leader Didi Chuxing.

But today (September 21) I’ve found out that Apple is negotiating with McLaren, the car manufacturer, according to the Financial Times. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. These negotiations have been ongoing for months and could lead to an acquisition, or at least a strategic investment.

More precisely, Apple is talking with McLaren Technology Group, the parent company of all things McLaren, including McLaren Automotive.

This means that Apple might be working secretly on their own autonomous car, or maybe they just found out about self-driving car and wants to get into the business (to late).

Who is Apple partnering with or getting vesting from ?

They gave $1B to the Chinese ride-sharing leader Didi Chuxing and they are partnering with McLaren Technology Group.

Do I think Apple can lead the autonomous cars market ?

Given the lack of innovation lately from Apple and their poor capacity to lead big technological chances (as they used to) I don’t think they will be able to lead the self-driving industries, they might be arriving late to the party.

Other car manufacturer companies on the rise:

Seams like Ford and General Motors are the ones doing the most notable things on the market, but other car manufacturer companies are joining the effort as well, some of them as investors, some of them partnering.

The venture arms of BMW, GM, and Volvo have also steadily invested in startups working in key fields of auto tech. These CVCs have deployed multiple funding rounds to fleet automation and telematics companies, such as RideCell, Telogis, and Peloton. Beyond these, BMWi Ventures has invested in the connected car app Zendrive.

Let’s get a clear sense of it:

Let’s review all the big auto’s scramble for auto tech partnerships, investments, and M&A

So, who I think will win the race or is at least in first position for now ?

For now Uber is the firm to beat in the race to transform the future of personal transport. Unlike Google, it is singularly focused on transport; unlike incumbent carmakers, it does not have a legacy car-manufacturing business to protect.

But we are technologist, how to we fit on this promising AI future?

If we put aside the car manufacturing thing from the equation, self-driving cars is purely technology, and we are technologist. We as developers and engineers are always trying to improve learning new frameworks, new programming languages, new technology, but what are we doing to fit on this AI world that is raising so fast?

I truly don’t know what are your efforts on AI in general, but you should be thinking about this market already. I do believe that AI will not only impact driver’s employment, but also our market.

It’s well known that AI through machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and big data analysis are capable of designing interfaces, developing front-end code and also getting microservices infrastructure built. So that’s a direct impact on our jobs.

Front-end, UI/UX, DevOps and Back-End development job positions among many others will be replaced by machines, and I see this happening in the next 10 -15 years, and I should be working to live in the next 10 -15 years.

Last week I saw the first ever movie trailer made by artificial intelligence; IBM’s Watson computer was consulted and tasked with making the scariest promotional video possible. The question that IBM’s team ran into is how do you teach a machine driven by logic, algorithms and math to incorporate concepts like fear.

In order to program Watson to understand what fear is, the research team at IBM got Watson to analyze 100 classic horror movies, examining each scene for consistencies and triggers that lead to the scarier aspects of the films.

What IBM Watson returned after analyzing Morgan’s raw movie content, it’s actually pretty scary. Watson had put moments from Morgan into the trailer that other, human editors had not, so this means this yet another market that will be impacted by AI in general.

So, how do we get into this area (from my software engineer perspective)

Take a look at Otto’s (company acquired by Uber) open positions and you’ll notice what I’m talking about. From their 32 positions listed I could only apply to 3 of them (Back-End Engineer, Front-End Engineer and iOS Developer).

So what are the hot techs, platforms or areas to improve knowledge on ?

  • Data Science and Analyst
  • Data Mining
  • LiDAR and Radars
  • Deep Learning
  • Neural Networks
  • Controllers
  • Computer Vision and 3D perception
  • Kinematics
  • Sensor Fusion
  • Hardware
  • Algorithms

I saw an interview from Y Combinator to Elon Musk on how to build the future, and he mentions:

“AI is the single most important technology in the short term — Makes a lot of sense, AI and IoT will be everywhere eventually, even on us”

What’s have I learned or done so far?

And I will continue to work on this path to be at least ready for the new era (I won’t drop on regular computer programming or software engineer).

I’m also applying for the Udacity’s Self-Driving car engineer nanodegree which is really complete. This program is backed by Otto, DiDi, NVidia and Mercedez-Benz (and Udacity from Google).

I hope this article has given to you a basic understanding of the whole self-driving business, who’s doing what and how are we moving towards this new technology wave.