“Driverless Cars” by Chunka Mui and Paul B. Carroll, a book review: Incremental Safety Pressures far Exceed any Google Car Advantage!

Driverless Cars: Trillions Are Up For Grabs


Having been introduced to autonomous vehicles over twenty-five years ago and been writing about trends in this field for the last three years, I have a very different and more grounded view of autonomous vehicles than the authors. You can find my view discussed in Leadership Improvement: The IT Maturity Method by Justin Coven, Ph.D. Chapter 17 (with additional information at itmaturity .comNewsletter #24).


I agree with the authors that autonomous vehicles are inevitable and are coming sooner than most think, even sooner than the authors imply. I disagree with the authors on how this will happen. In Newsletter #24 (mentioned above) I discuss the tremendous incremental safety improvement pressures forcing all vehicle manufactures to add more autonomous features every year and how this pressure will lead to fully autonomous vehicles in five years, plus or minus a year or two. Insurance providers are actually aiding these pressures for greater safety, which will in the mid-term drive them out of this business line.

The authors focus extensively on the Google Car and miss the boat with respect to the broader industry advance that is occurring. Yes Sebastian Thrun (now with Google), did an incredible job with a twelve man team in only one year of preparation, winning the 2005 DARPA challenge. He beat a much larger team (200 members) with more years of development. But let us not forget that a team from Louisiana (which had just been through a category five hurricane) was one of five teams that finished the course in 2005. The year before no team could even get 10% of the course finished. The moral being that the field is advancing across the board, and one team held up for a year is going to be passed by many teams in that year (see Leadership Improvement: The IT Maturity Method by Justin Coven, Ph.D. for more info).

Google is not in the vehicle manufacturing business, and most business will not rely upon single vendors for core capabilities. As getting into the vehicle manufacturing business is far more than a one year barrier, it is unlikely that Google will become a major player. Google’s (or any other autonomous player’s) opportunity (which at least publicly they appear to be oblivious too) is to leverage the technology being used for autonomous vehicles to enter other manufacturing arenas with much lower entry boundaries, but with potentially equivalent profit opportunities. In Leadership Improvement: The IT Maturity Method by Justin Coven, Ph.D. (and Newsletters #4 and #13) I discuss how the basic elements of autonomous vehicles (moderate sensors, communications, and actuators in tandem with emerging complex computation) can be used for other autonomous markets such as autonomous food production and preparation (i.e. smart kitchens and smart gardens). Where both markets have huge profit potential, little existing autonomous competition, and lower manufacturing entry barriers.

Most autonomous kitchen research is focused on inserting an android into the kitchen. Years ago futurists pictured android’s driving cars. Androids will no more be used in kitchens then they are in the autonomous vehicles that are evolving today.

On the positive side the authors provide some good statistics, as well a good list of businesses likely impacted. However, they seem to be constrained in some of their other projections to how the world currently works. While they recognize that vehicle size and shape will change they don’t make the next jump to transportation as service (see Newsletter #24).

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