The Autonomous Car Industry Emerges

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The Autonomous Car Industry Emerges

In 2004, the Trends editors forecast today’s rush of entrants into “the self-driving automobile space.”  At the time, we recognized that trends in computing speed, networking, sensory systems, and artificial intelligence were converging with demographic, and behavioral trends to enable this transformational leap in transportation.

Recognizing the sudden proliferation of market entrants, we decided to examine the evolutionary timelines for self-driving automobiles based on the stated plans of the dozen largest participants. 

Beyond the automotive industry, many businesses and industries will be impacted by the impending transition driven by autonomous vehicle technology.  The objective of this segment is to paint a picture that will help managers, policy makers, investors and consumers prepare for this transition.  In the September 2017 issue, we’ll overlay this picture onto a discussion of how autonomous automobiles will impact spending patterns, infrastructure requirements, real estate values, and employment opportunities over the next decade and beyond.


To ensure that we all share a common understanding of what companies mean by “self-driving” let’s examine the “six levels of autonomy,” as defined by SAE International, the professional association for automotive engineers. 

  • Level 0 automation refers to cars with no automation.
  • Level 1 automation refers to some small steering or acceleration tasks being performed by the car without human intervention; but everything else is fully under human control.
  • Level 2 automation refers to features like advanced cruise control or the original “autopilot systems” on Tesla vehicles; the car can automatically take safety precautions, but the driver needs to stay alert at the wheel.
  • Level 3 automation still requires a human driver, but the human is able to hand over some “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle under certain traffic or environmental conditions. This poses some potential dangers as the major tasks of driving are transferred to and from the car itself; this is why some car companies (like Ford) are interested in jumping directly to level 4.
  • Level 4 automation refers to a car that can drive itself almost all the time without any human input, but might be programmed not to drive in unmapped areas or during severe weather...

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