Suddenly and without warning, a number of major companies are jumping into a field that until just recently was considered pure science fiction: Driverless vehicles and drones.
Don’t get me wrong. I like high tech. But I hate it when someone mucks up the old, familiar technology that I’m comfortable with.
On my camera, for example, auto-focus is a royal pain in the butt. It never works as well as manual focus.
On my car, I bet I’m paying extra for cruise control. But I never use the darn thing.
And I’m downright angry with BMW. They stopped making my favorite model in a stick shift, literally forcing me to buy an automatic.
So you can imagine my trepidation about driverless cars.
But then Weiss Research tech-industry specialist Jon Markman made the ultimate argument:
“People get so upset about guns and drinking as a cause of death. People get so upset about heart disease and obesity as a cause of death. But the number one killer in the United States is none of the above. It’s automobile accidents.
“So ultimately,” he continued, “people will realize that about 90% of the human race is made up of terrible drivers. We go too fast. We’re too distracted. We’ve got all kinds of new buttons to fiddle with. We’ve got kids in the back seat. There’s road rage. There are too many people — young ones especially — texting and driving, drinking and driving, or worse.
“Driverless cars won’t be perfect. But the improvements they bring to road safety will be like night to day.”
That’s when I decided to look into this in depth — and write to you about it today.
Jon sent me a slew of emails with news flashes. My research assistant dug deep into the scientific literature. And my conclusion is that …
Driverless technologies are far closer
to dramatically changing our lives
than most people realize. And the
investment potential is enormous.
Current discoveries and advances in the science of transportation are moving so quickly — and with such vast consequences — they boggle the imagination.
Yet most investors are baffled. They don’t know which companies are most likely to win the mad race for the most profitable ventures. And they don’t know how to buy into this new world without also buying into the old.
Look. When Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” traveled to 2015, he found a world that captured the imagination of millions in 1985.
From what I recall, there were machines that scanned eyes and fingerprints … eyewear with access to databases … flight-capable cars … and more.
But 2015 is now. Some of those things are reality. Others are not. And the evolution of transportation is following a different trajectory — robotic, driverless cars, suddenly grabbing the attention of innovative companies, auto fans, and technology buffs … but not many investors, at least not yet!
I don’t blame them; the challenges are still many:
* Legislation. How soon will states be able to rewrite all their driving regs?
* Insurance. Just to test its driverless vehicles in Nevada, Google had to put up a bond of between $1 million and $3 million. How long will it take auto insurers to figure out appropriate premium rates for millions of driverless cars?
* Interaction with humans. How will the driverless cars cope with pedestrians and crowds? How will they respond to traffic police?
* The “hand-off” problem. In other words, the transition between computer and manual control. Remember last year’s crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in the South Indian Ocean? How about the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic?
Both were caused by crews responding incorrectly when they took over manual control. What happens when millions of drivers suddenly decide they need to yank back the controls from their on-board computers?
* Severe weather. Fog, heavy rain, snow, or ice.
* Security issues. What happens if a hacker can take control of a vehicle remotely, locking the passengers inside until a ransom is paid?
But to each and every one of these questions, there are three solid answers:
First, we’ve already supposedly solved all of these problems for human drivers. So it stands to reason that we can also solve them for robot drivers — and do so far more efficiently. According to Jon, it’s all just a matter of DATA — gathering it, storing it and processing it.
Second, the fact is we have NOT really solved the issues for humans.
If we had, why did this month’s winter storms cause such massive traffic jams and so many multi-vehicle pileups? Why are 33,000 people dying on U.S. highways every 12 months? Why are over one million dying on the world’s roads year after year?
Third, each and every one of these challenges is an opportunity for spunky companies with bright engineers and gutsy ideas to step up to the plate and bat some homeruns. And it’s also an opportunity to investors to make a lot of money.
Just consider this prediction …
Up to 75% of Cars on the Road
Will be Driverless by 2040!
This forecast is from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.
IEEE experts identify driverless cars as “the most viable form of intelligent transportation, dominating the roadway by 2040 and sparking dramatic changes in vehicular travel.”
The key accelerator of this trend: Unlike other much-discussed innovations, it does NOT require big changes in existing infrastructure.
For example, superfast underground trains would need new tunnels costing trillions of dollars. Driverless cars can use existing roads.
Moreover, it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact,
Key functions of driverless driving
can be introduced one at a time.
Automatic transmissions have long-ago been standard in the United States and virtually impossible to avoid in Japan.
Millions of autos already have warning systems for nearby objects, cruise control and navigation systems.
Plus, consider these functions:
Self-parking technology: Censors and cameras detect surrounding objects and neatly park the car for you in some of the tightest spots.
Cars of the future? No. The system is already available in some Volvo, Toyota, Kia, Lexus, VW, and Skoda models.
Automatic braking systems: Computer senses possible collision before you do, hits the breaks, prevents damage and injuries. Saves lives. (Just be sure it’s not made by the same company that made all those millions of faulty air bags!)
Google’s test cars are already driverless.
They have no steering wheel and no pedals. Special removable safety control tools comply with California state law (although the company wants to ultimately get rid of them).
And they’re dealing head on with nearly all of the main remaining challenges.
Ditto for Audi’s autonomous car, shown at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas last month.
And Volvo shared the spotlight with Mercedes-Benz, which also delivered its driverless car prototype to CES at the same time. This is the “luxury version” — supposedly ideal for the CEO crowd that wants to negotiate big business deals without worrying about traffic.
BMW, though, is about one year ahead of them — with extensive testing already completed in Germany, and with a deal already signed with Chinese search engine Baidu for their mapping software.
And don’t forget Tesla Motors, which, per Morgan Stanley, could become the leader in the industry. One of its lines is already equipped with limited autopilot functions. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects they’ll be able to produce a fully autonomous car in five to six years.
This is happening. It’s happening a lot faster than I realized.
They’ve already taken my stick shift away. Now I’m dreading the day when they take away my steering wheel. But if it makes me money — and saves my life — maybe I should stop complaining so much.
Good luck and God bless!