Rolando Grandi

Autonomous driving – a revolution of the 21st century

In the 19th century, the burgeoning oil industry and the development of the internal combustion engine sparked one of the greatest economic, technological and social revolutions in history, as well as the emergence of modern means of transportation: cars, planes, boats propelled by combustion engines, etc.

The icon of this second industrial revolution that transformed the world, the car, “a purely magical object” 1 replaced the horse. What we see as unremarkable today was a radical change back then. Because there was no infrastructure, cars frequently broke down while fuel was hard to find and expensive. It was the arrival of Fordism and the development of vehicle infrastructures that paved the way for the introduction of the automobile into our daily lives. Within the space of 10 years, cities adapted themselves to the car, relegating the horse to the status of recreational activity.

Autonomous driving on the rise – WAYMO at the forefront

Now it is our turn to experience radical change: the digital revolution that is transforming the economy thanks to the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which will gradually have an impact on every sector. Our cars will not be left out of this revolution now that the race to self-driving cars has begun. Today WAYMO is the autonomous driving technology leader, with more than 32 million kilometres driven in real-world conditions and more than 15 billion kilometres in simulation. A subsidiary of ALPHABET Inc, the parent company of GOOGLE, WAYMO is developing intelligent taxis without a human driver equipped with an array of sensors allowing AI to safely operate the car. Right now, in Phoenix, Arizona, you can test out this ride hailing service yourself! During the management team’s trip to San Francisco in 2019, we noticed many autonomous cars navigating through the city, where, since February 2021, WAYMO has been offering a ride-hailing service. Other companies such as ZOOX (bought by AMAZON) or UBER (in the process of being sold) are also contenders. Not to mention APPLE, the largest company in the world, which is involved in the development of several autonomous driving projects and negotiating with Korean car makers to build their driverless cars.

Autonomous driving drives the market for infotainment

The benefits are numerous, with none more important than the potential for less congested cities. By orchestrating the flow of cars in cities, the system becomes more efficient and should drastically reduce traffic congestion. Safety also stands to benefit. Self-driving cars can communicate with each other, and AI algorithms will soon prove to be more responsive than human beings. Moreover, they will never be tired or distracted. Lastly, drivers will be freed from the task of driving, turning their cars into workspaces or places of escape. This accounts for today’s massive investments in infotainment, which will transform the car into a comfortable, user-friendly space with a sound system, screens and connectivity. It comes as no surprise that a company like SAMSUNG bought HARMAN KARDON in 2016 in order to secure a foothold in the car of tomorrow and make it possible for you to control your car with your smartphone.

Between now and 2040, 55 million driverless cars are expected to take to the roads worldwide2 and be adopted on a massive scale by 2050, according to management consulting firm, McKinsey. There is still a long way to go, but the day will come when every car is smart enough to earn the right to drive.

And, like the leisure activity horse riding became in the 20th century, there will always be a few road circuits near (smart) cities where driving enthusiasts can enjoy their favourite pastime.

1 Roland Barthes, MYTHOLOGIES, 1957
2 Idate, a think tank on the digital economy