Uncovering New Opportunities in Autonomous Vehicle Technology

It still might sound like science fiction, but driverless cars are already on the road around the world. While the leader of the pack, Google’s Waymo, has logged over 10 million autonomous miles, it’s not the only car driving itself around as of 2019.  Russia’s Yandex just announced that its self-driving cars have driven 1 million miles. And Tesla’s autopilot miles top 1.2 billion.

That’s a lot of ground covered.

And, it’s not just single-driver cars. Beep, an autonomous mobility solutions service, piloted a public self-driving shuttle earlier this year in Florida. And Beep, while unique because it’s public, isn’t alone.  Waymo officially joined California’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program this past summer, allowing it to offer Waymo employees and their guests shuttle rides. Waymo is one of four companies in California, including AutoX, Pony.ai, and Zoox, that operates driverless vehicles. In addition to California, Pony.ai also operates out of a headquarters in Shanghai.

In other words, driverless car technology is in use from coast to coast and around the world.

What is a Driverless Car?

Although most of us are likely still driving our cars to work rather than reading a book or catching up on emails, it won’t be long until that’s no longer the case.  For instance, if you’ve recently purchased a car, you likely opted for the latest safety features— the automatic braking, the blind spot detection, parking assistance, and so on. And, if you did so, you aren’t alone. The increasing consumer adoption of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) is paving the road toward more full-featured autonomous technology.

Consumer buy-in of ADAS technologies also incentivizes car companies to invest their further development.  Hyundai, for example, recently announced plans to invest $35 billion in self-driving and electric vehicles. No company wants to be left behind in the race for fully autonomous vehicles, especially given the present consumer demand for ADAS features.

Beyond increased buy-in, the technology is also becoming less expensive for manufacturers, with the cost of light detection and ranging sensors dropping by a factor of ten over the last five years.

Why Invest in Driverless Cars?

All that said, the applications of driverless technologies are nearly endless, and they will be increasingly in-demand as traffic continues to plague growing metro areas and logistics costs rise.

One possibility for how the technology might show up in our day-to-day lives is the concept of robo-taxis. People have already adopted ride-sharing, priming consumers for easy adoption into this new driverless transport option. Uber is already working on this, securing $1 billion in funding earlier this year to work on its own self-driving cars.

A second possibility is platooning— using one vehicle that transports goods as the leader of one or more trucks doing the same. The lead truck, potentially with a driver, will provide the driverless trucks following it with predictability.

Even more, if driverless cars are mixed with infrastructure adaptations, it could lead to radically effective traffic solutions. According to a recent study published in Science Daily, driverless vehicles have the potential to improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%. One possibility is for congested cities to create a driverless car lane— like an HOV lane—that allows speeds higher than previously thought possible. Driverless technology can also be used to streamline public transportation.

How close is all of this today? Closer than many might think.

Researchers are continuing to help driverless cars improve their decision-making in edge cases, or situations that are not black and white. This might mean recognizing a pedestrian that’s carrying something large across the road or adjusting course when a pedestrian forgets something and quickly changes direction in the road.

But still, even though driverless vehicle technology faces challenges, the research dollars are hard at work and the technology is imminent. When it comes to society going driverless, it’s a matter of when, not if.

How to Invest in Driverless Car Technology

So what’s the best way for investors to get involved as autonomous technology starts to hit the mainstream? A search on Magnifi suggests that there are a number of different ways to profit from the driverless trend as a whole.

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