Robot Wheels: Will Driverless Cars Soon Be a Reality?

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

What’s to come for the driverless car phenomenon? Is the industry ready to take to the streets, or will it stay parked? More inside.

The sprint to mass-produce the first fully automated car—a dash that at least one observer has compared to last century’s space race—is on.

Many of the world’s top automakers, technology companies and even consumer electronics manufacturers are getting in on the action.

Here’s a look at who’s developing actual driverless cars, who’s pioneering components and accessories, and how you can capitalize on the trend — even if you don’t have billions in startup capital at your disposal.

Related Article: Watson Calling? The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Business

Who’s Developing Driverless Cars?

Mercedes

Mercedes is the gold standard in attainable luxury. No other mass-produced marque comes close. But Mercedes also has a surprisingly strong techie streak. Witness the incessantly discussed Mercedes “lounge on wheels,” a driverless concept car unveiled at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show — not, notably, a show normally associated with groundbreaking automotive inventions.

Properly known as the F 015, the German automaker’s “lounge on wheels” is a four-seater “mobile living room,” according to Fortune. With swivel seats that allow front and back passengers to converse face-to-face, it’s definitely not meant for riders who want to watch the road. Although the sleek, low-slung windows certainly help with that. 

The F 015 doesn’t skimp on creature comforts: brushed aluminum, napa leather seats and LED mood lighting raise the competitive bar. Besides a plasma implosion and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, the only thing holding you back from living in Doc Brown’s version of 2015 is the antiquated road you’ll be driving over. Next on the list: Advanced Mercedes wheels to go with these futuristic cars—ideally ones that can fix themselves after being damaged!

Google/Alphabet

Alphabet’s driverless car program is more ambitious than most. Though the company is keeping its work close to the vest, it also appears to be the farthest along of any credible initiative. In fact, it’s thought to be a top reason for the company’s recent restructuring into a modern conglomerate with semi-autonomous divisions. As you read this, “GoogleCars” ply the streets and back lanes of the Bay Area and Texas Hill Country with abandon.

Samsung

Korean electronics giant Samsung actually tried to get into the car business once before. According to Engadget, the company’s Samsung Motors division very nearly got to market, but fell victim to terrible timing as the 1997 Asian financial crisis rocked the regional economy’s foundations.

Samsung’s automaking initiative is, apparently, back and better than ever. The company recently released the first electronics product designed specifically for inclusion in a driverless vehicle: a comprehensive, state-of-the-art “infotainment” system that builds on systems available in today’s human-driven cars. Look for even bolder, more mission-critical components and systems in the years to come.

Other Driverless Technology Players

These three companies aren’t the only players in the race to commercialize driverless car technology.

Ridesharing company Uber has made no bones about its desire to replace its for-hire drivers with wheeled robots, while Apple recently launched a super-secret initiative that may believe presages an aggressive driverless technology push. And Sony has an impressive set of plans to become the go-to supplier of driverless car parts and accessories; the company looks poised to challenge its continental rival Samsung for dominance in the world’s fastest-growing auto market.

Related Article: Bell & Brin: Comparing Two Of Technology's Most Remarkable Innovators

How to Capitalize on the Driverless Car Trend

You probably don’t have the resources of a multinational automaker or electronics company at your disposal. Most entrepreneurs don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t capitalize on the burgeoning driverless car trend.

Who knows? Your clever innovation could become the next must-have automated car gadget, accessory or part — or serve as a critical piece of the emerging 21st century automated transport infrastructure. Here are three ideas to get you started.

Here are three ideas to get you started.

In-Ride Entertainment

In-cabin entertainment is already a pretty big, sophisticated business. Once driverless cars hit the big time, the opportunities in this space are only going to grow. Look for ways to integrate immersive entertainment — large-screen displays, holograms, even virtual reality experiences — into the cabin. Keep in mind that such innovations will likely need to integrate with manual override technologies and any other regulator-mandated safety systems.

Spectator Sports

Fortune recently ran a report on Roborace, the first-ever driverless car racing series. Think Formula 1 racing for robots.

Organizing and promoting a driverless car race is a lot easier than building a driverless car from the ground up. Consider variations on the Roborace theme: Grand Prix-style events, touring races, obstacle courses, sprints — the sky’s the limit.

Redundant Safety Systems

Adrenaline junkies notwithstanding, humans are generally risk-averse beings. As driverless cars become increasingly plentiful on the world’s roads, people are likely to question the advisability of an automated, seemingly unaccountable fleet of two-ton machines hurtling through their communities at high speed. We’re already seeing some pushback as municipalities and local courts enact tight restrictions or outright bans on driverless car technology.

The good news is that risk aversion can be lucrative for entrepreneurs with the right vision and temperament. Look to yesterday’s “next big thing” industries for ideas. In the mid-1980s, radiation-reducing cell phone earpieces were unheard of, because cell phones were basically unheard of. Today, millions of units sell each year. A generation ago, an “antivirus” was an experimental medical treatment. Today, antivirus software is the foundation of consumer cybersecurity.

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