Tipping point – Autonomous Cars

Autonomous technology is the holy grail for future of automobile. It will not only upend the automobile industry but also real estate, retail and many others. It is only fair to say that every company with enough cash in their wallets have been trying to get into the game. Apple, Alphabet (read Google), Tencent, Uber, Didi Chuxing are some of the bigger names aiming at this market. Apart from this there are 52 startups in US alone trying to build a solution in this space.

Part of the issues with commercialising technology of this nature are techno-commercial; but the other part is socio-political.

The former can be solved through hard work and innovation. Getting the right technology to be commercialised at the right price. The latter is a bit more challenging, because it involves changing how people perceive the technology; questions around ethics; questions around jobs and so on.

California has taken a huge step in this direction this week by legislating to allow autonomous vehicles without drivers, on the road.

The California DMV got approval Monday (Feb. 26) for its plan (pdf) to put self-driving cars on the road with no safety driver, a measure that ensured a human could take over if the car’s artificial intelligence made a mistake. That means starting April 2, Google, Ford, Nvidia, and other companies can own and operate cars driving around the Golden State without anybody inside.

Although it seems trivial right now, this is the first socio-political step towards making autonomous cars a legitimate solution to mobility woes. Remains to be seen how long it takes for other cities and countries to adopt this stance.

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