Life-Changing Tech… At Your Doorstep

David Fessler By David Fessler, Energy and Infrastructure Strategist, The Oxford Club

Alternative Energy

So you stayed out too late last night, and now you’re facing a one-hour commute on a crowded highway. No problem. Just tell the car where you want to go, sit back and catch another hour of sleep.

Sounds very futuristic, right? Five years from now… it will be the norm.

As a driver, you may be skeptical. But as an investor, you need to understand that this trend is going to be huge.

Autonomous vehicles are practically at our doorstep. Five years from now, they’ll be in our garages.

And if you think five years is a wildly optimistic time frame, consider these stats:

  • Volkswagen expects to have an autonomous vehicle by 2019.
  • General Motors expects to have its first model by 2020 or sooner.
  • BMW already announced it will launch the iNext, a self-driving vehicle, in 2021.
  • Ford expects to have driverless vehicles by 2020.
  • Baidu (China’s Google) expects large numbers of self-driving cars by 2019 and full production two years later.
  • Elon Musk says the first fully autonomous Tesla will be available in 2018, but Department of Transportation approval could take one to three years more.

Most major carmakers are less than five years away from having a full or semi-autonomous vehicle. In fact, by 2020, there will be an estimated 10 million autonomous vehicles on the highways.

Of course, why not cut the expenses associated with car ownership and simply take an Uber? It’s embracing driverless technology too.

Uber expects its entire fleet will be driverless by 2030 and car ownership will make no sense, since Uber will be so inexpensive.

Many people may decide to give up traditional car ownership all together. According to an MIT study, driverless cars could eventually take 80% of the current fleet of vehicles off American roads.

Consider this… Monthly car payments, insurance, maintenance and fuel costs are a big chunk of the average person’s income.

But even if you opt to own an autonomous vehicle, your costs may go down too. Drivers can expect that, in the future, insurance companies will increasingly frown upon manual driving. The more you embrace autopilot, the less your insurance will cost.

For those of you who think autonomous driving sounds more like an episode of The Jetsons than reality, it’s your loss… The driverless technology market is going to explode from $3 billion last year to $96 billion in 2025.

This is Fessler’s First Law of Technology in action: Technology marches on. And I’ve noticed two key trends emerging in the autonomous sector.

The first is one of the most rapidly growing areas inside the automotive electronics sector. The industry calls it advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

The addition of ADAS to more and more vehicles is primarily happening due to growing public acceptance of the technology.

Today’s drivers are keenly aware of this new driver safety technology. Carmakers have been quick to show it off in television advertising.

My Tesla Model X uses cruise control to keep and maintain a safe distance between it and any car in front of it. It can also check out a potential parking space. If the space is large enough, my car will steer itself into it.

Tesla cars read road signs and post the current speed limit on the dash. You can even have the car warn you if you exceed the speed limit by a set amount.

The Tesla, and many other new vehicles equipped with some autonomous features, can make split-second decisions in emergency braking events to avoid an accident. Future safety ratings will depend on many of the new ADAS options.

Automobile manufacturers have a big incentive to make their cars the safest on the road. Safer cars will lead to higher sales.

Where Did the Driver Go?

The second trend is no driver at all – known as full autonomous driving. These vehicles contain even more sensors, software and high-speed computer chips.

The road to autonomous driving will consist of three steps:

  1. Increasing the number of sensors and the communication between vehicles. This will enable ADAS-connected vehicles to communicate with each other regarding hazard warnings. In addition, a constant data stream of information on weather and traffic will enable vehicles to reroute or even interact with traffic signals.
  2. Developing increasingly detailed maps. This one’s fairly obvious. Highly detailed maps will validate what the car’s sensors are telling its computer.
  3. Creating new policies. Autonomous car computers have to take into account the “human behavior” aspect of driving. Having the right laws in place will enable autonomous cars and human drivers to “negotiate” on the road. I don’t see an end to road rage, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

As Elon Musk noted, autonomous vehicle technology will be here far in advance of liability and regulatory issues that need to be resolved. The issue of driverless vehicle accidents is bound to attract liability lawsuits.

The good news is there will be far fewer accidents when autonomous driving becomes the norm rather than the exception. Google’s fleet of autonomous cars have driven 2 million miles with only a handful of minor accidents to report.

It’s also worth noting that every accident was the fault of the other driver, not the driverless technology. The Atlantic projects autonomous vehicles will save 10 million lives over the course of a decade.

Whether you like it or not, autonomous technology is here to stay. And within the next five years, it will be more commonplace than your Corolla. Investors who watch the sector closely now will have the opportunity to win big later.

Good investing,

Dave

P.S. I’ve recently discovered a company in the autonomous sector that is using technology the size of an Altoid to save 1.5 million lives every year. To learn more, click here now.