If it were only a matter of screwing the parts together to build self-driving cars, we would live in the future today. Our car would choose the best route for us by communicating with other cars. This would prevent traffic jams, and fatigue would no longer be dangerous. Unfortunately, however, it's not that simple: the parts must also be able to work together reliably.
Moral questions also have to be answered. What happens if a vehicle gets into a situation in which it could probably save the driver but endanger the life of passers-by? Who should the system save? How should automated working systems be programmed in such borderline situations?
There could also be liability and insurance issues, if an image-recognition system does not correctly recognise objects on the street, and therefore makes a wrong decision. In spring 2018, Uber decided to put further tests for self-driving robo-taxis on hold after such a car in Arizona drove into someone. The driver, who should have intervened in an emergency, looked down at the moment of impact, as shown by camera shots, incorrectly choosing to rely on the system.
It will take a while longer until it’s ready for series production than was imagined a few years ago. The big promise of the industry is that fully developed, autonomous vehicles could help save the 1.25 million people who die each year from road accidents worldwide. Autonomous driving would then be in line with cancer drugs, space travel or other innovations that have the potential to transform our society and the way we live together.
Trade on our Driverless Car basket
With our Driverless Cars basket, investors are able to invest in what is a fascinating market without taking the risk of ultimately backing a single company. The basket includes 28 companies that generate important income in the field of autonomous driving.
ALPHABET - Class A: WAYMO CONTINUES
The Google subsidiary, Waymo, was founded in 2016 and continues the work of Google Driverless Cars. In the long term, Waymo wants to focus on providing a service, such as driverless taxis, and not necessarily on the sale of private vehicles, and it has already built its own test vehicles.
APPLE: THE OPERATING SYSTEM IS CRUCIAL
Traditional automakers may specialise in making safe vehicles, but Apple has the right user interface and, with its smartphones and operating systems, provides the platform to make the functions of self-driving cars easy to use.
INTEL: Real-time calculations without any hesitation
Intel chips are now installed in almost all autonomous vehicles worldwide. The brain of the human driver will be replaced by the computing power of Intel chips, which will react in real-time and no longer have any delay.
GENERAL MOTORS: Cruise brings momentum
General Motors had to announce in late summer 2019 that it would not be possible to meet its own targets for producing self-driving vehicles, and that its subsidiary Cruise would need more time for testing. Cruise focuses on development in San Francisco and aims to start a worldwide rollout.
FORD MOTOR: 2021 start time
Ford has set itself the goal of putting the first self-driving car on the road in 2021. To do this, Ford has invested in four different technology companies.
TESLA: Trend electric car
Tesla is a pioneer in the field of electric vehicles, and already offers part of its fleet with self-driving functions.
NVIDIA – real-time graphical detection
Autonomous driving is above all a challenge for software and especially in terms of image recognition. NVidia's graphics processors enable real-time detection of people, street signs and dangerous situations.
Qualcomm – real-time communication via 5G
Qualcomm's focus is on the development of chips that will enable vehicles to talk to each other and exchange traffic or distance information, via a highly-developed 5G broadband mobile radio network. Real-time communication between self-driving cars is not possible for human drivers.
Uber Technologies – ride-hailing firm revives self-driving programme
In February, Uber was issued a permit to test its driverless cars on public roads in California, almost two years after one of its autonomous cars was involved in a fatal crash – though this was predominantly blamed on Uber's safety driver.
Why trade on self-driving automobiles?
There are a number of factors – both positive and negative – which could impact the future of this industry and therefore its attractiveness as an investment.
The bullish stance
- Autonomous driving could be one of the biggest upheavals in society and investors could benefit if they choose the right companies
- Human errors are excluded and driving can therefore be far safer worldwide than it is today
- More free time: when travelling in the car it will be possible to concentrate on other things, which could increase productivity on the commute to work
- As computers have no emotions, aggressive driving – and road rage – would become a thing of the past
- Driving having consumed excess alcohol will cease to be an issue
- The police can focus on more important tasks if they are spending less time overseeing traffic issues and accidents.
The bearish view
- Vehicles could be manipulated by hackers, which may lead to security problems
- Jobs for taxi and freight drivers will be eliminated
- People would forget how to drive vehicles
- Companies would need to insure themselves against deaths caused by incorrectly functioning autonomous driving systems
- In very bad weather, the systems could work less reliably
- Street signs will have to change, and this will consume large sums of investment
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