You have probably heard about “self driving cars” and know that it is something Google is working hard on as one of their many “crazy” projects – but this future is much closer than you think as evidenced recently in the SAPsv session with Brad Templeton, one of the world’s leading experts on self-driving cars.

After listening to his presentation it became clear that the car industry (and others) are facing a disruptive force of hurricane proportions as the leading tech players like Google, Apple and Tesla ramp up their transportation projects. Effectively we will no longer buy a car, but rather a computer with 4 wheels and some very clever software controlling the direction and speed of the box.

The self-driving car is guided by Lidar – short for Light Detection and Ranging – combined with an incredible detailed set of maps designed to help the car software with deciding the upcoming actions. The maps are so accurate that they show each road sign, tree and any other physical element as the car uses this information to determine location and action. As of now, however, there is no standardization for this meaning car makers of the future will have to create their own or license a map service from somebody else.

Speaking of car makers – in the future they will no longer control the design of the cars but simply producing a “batch of cars” according to the specifications provided by a software maker. The actual design of cars can now be done without traditional limitations or restrictions because software is running inside the car –  making the “computer” invisible.

More interestingly, the number of people who actually buy a car will be reduced dramatically, especially in “transportation on demand” cities. In these locations, getting a car will be as easy as ordering a pizza, which, by the way can be delivered by a self-driving delivery-bot within 30 minutes – no more tipping required.

With this new transportation model evolving, the need for big parking lots will disappear. Cars will drive themselves to a designated holding location until the next ride is requested – truly a fascinating image. This change would allow car “parks” to be transformed into a regular park with open grass, water fountains, and fun activity areas (or more likely the vacant space would be used for new urban development).

Additionally, the number of car accidents will drop significantly – after all, most accidents are caused by human errors – but we still have to overcome the PDLBKBR syndrome (short for “People Don’t Like Being Killed By Robots”) as we come to terms with the fact that a software driven car is much safer than a human driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs!

And with car ownership and the number of accidents falling dramatically, the car insurance and repair industries will be crippled. If you think about the amount of money spent by the typical car owner in today’s ownership model you realize the enormity of the disruption facing us within a few years.

So, who will benefit from the “car-volution”? Well, most likely the suppliers of other services such as clothing, restaurants and entertainment. The money we save on car ownership will be directed into other areas of spending to convey status – because, after all, the car has been one of our biggest status symbols until now.

One final ironic piece of information: the lawmakers are way behind the curve here. For example, according to current legislation, a self-driving car must be produced with side-view mirrors, even though there is no need for them. A driver will never have to use side mirrors for anything but it will probably be 2050 before they disappear as a requirement. Perhaps this is the ultimate survival strategy for the current car makers? One will never know.

To learn more about autonomous transportation, visit Brad’s homepage and read his summary about the key benefits and “drivers” behind this revolution.

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