Fully automated vehicles will change industries from transportation to farming, while truly smart cars open vast horizons in the services sector.

The idea of self-driving vehicles has been around for nearly as long as the car itself. An article published in the Scientific American referred to driverless cars as inevitable in the not-too-distant future, and that was written in 1918.

Modern vehicles are already designed with technology to make driving and parking functions easier and safer. Car manufacturers and companies such as Google and Amazon are now testing prototypes of fully autonomous vehicles; these will have the ability to drop off passengers, park and have full control of the vehicle and its safety decisions. “When this will be a reality is difficult to say. Most manufacturers are quoting as early as 2017. I feel that a more widespread rollout will likely be 2025,” says Paul Bentley, Retail Operations Director at Lookers, one of the UK’s largest vehicle retailers.

Companies are already considering the opportunities that this technology brings. In 2014, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick headhunted a number of experts in autonomous vehicles from The Robotics Institute at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Uber has since started testing out autonomous vehicles on the roads of Pittsburgh with its first fleet of autonomous taxicabs. These are currently supervised by drivers in the seat, but otherwise fully autonomous.

Self-driving trucks are also being tested around the world, with the first such experiment taking place in Nevada in 2015. It is expected that all trucks will eventually be fully autonomous with the ability to pull in to depots for unloading. The economic impact this could have is plain to see, especially in America: home to over three million truckers.

Even in the farming industry, autonomous vehicles are starting to replace the traditional tractor and able to function day and night. With the assistance of drones flying above farms to assess crop conditions, the future of arable farming is expected to be fully autonomous.

Manufacturers must log millions of hours’ worth of driving data in order to deem a fully autonomous vehicle as road-worthy. This big data is something that is increasingly important for self-driving cars. If these vehicles are to go mainstream as expected, they will need to tap into a larger network of real-time data and be aware of obstacles and their local environment. Electric car manufacturer Tesla has already gathered 780 million miles of driving data and continues to collect another million miles of data every 10 hours.

 “The current 3G and 4G telecoms system does not have suitable bandwidth to cope with autonomous vehicles” – Owain Hale-Heighway, Ordnance Survey UK

A driverless future is around the corner

CNH Industrial is trialing an autonomous tractor that will be able to perform fieldwork around the clock. Photo: CNH Industrial

In order to collect real-time data, the telecoms infrastructure needs to be in place. Britain’s mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, is involved in planning the future of 5th generation wireless systems (5G) in Britain. “The current 3G and 4G telecoms system does not have suitable bandwidth to cope with autonomous vehicles. 5G, with its higher frequencies offering superior speeds and bandwidth, would be able to cope, but getting the nation 5G ready is not without its challenges,” explains Owain Hale-Heighway, Smart Cities Practice manager at Ordnance Survey UK.

Car manufacturers will need to stand out from the crowd by including more sophisticated technology in their vehicles. We have already seen a rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ in our homes. Now, there are more opportunities for in-vehicle technology.

“In the future, the autonomous car will know everything about you. It will know that it is your daughter’s birthday tomorrow. So, the technology in the car would bring up information on where you like to shop, show you options, and even suggest stopping off at the store on route to your destination in order to pick up a present,” explains Sebastiano Russo, exterior designer at Audi.

A driverless future is around the corner

“The autonomous car will know that it is your daughter’s birthday tomorrow. It will suggest which store to stop at in order to pick up a present” – Sebastiano Russo, exterior designer at Audi

New business opportunities will inevitably arise once consumers are no longer required to sit in the driver’s seat and able to spend time and money on services as they travel. “The future of driverless cars will be defined by services. You could get your nails done whilst travelling to your destination and there will be driverless mobile restaurants. It will be all about service for customers and saving time by doing things whilst travelling to your destination,” says Russo.

Whether it is entertainment, education, food, drink or health and beauty, the possibilities for in-transit services are endless and will be a huge area of business growth in the future.

**Written by: The Report Company for IE University