Autonomous Cars: Second Order Effects

Autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are all over the news lately. Google is very open about their efforts, and while Apple has not announced it officially, there is too much smoke for this to just be a rumor at this point – especially given the source (the WSJ has traditionally been the formal “leak” source for Apple news). Uber is working on redefining transportation, and self driving cars are a huge part of that future – and they’ve publicly stated this.

Meanwhile, the traditional auto brands are adding an increasing number of features to cars and trucks that are heading down this path: adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and autobrake are among these features. All of these things are steps along the way to full autonomous vehicles. The Hyundai The Empty Car Convoy commercial demonstrated some of these features in a powerful way:

As we head into a transition like this, it’s important to think about the second order effects of these changes: if all cars are self driving, what other impacts will that have? If all cars are aware of themselves and other cars, we can probably remove lanes and intersections, and let the cars figure out the best route. A recent A16Z podcast, “When Software Eats Cars”, explores some of the results of what may happen when our vehicles are electric, on-demand, and driverless:

Even thought this is a ways off, it’s important to see where we’re heading, and think about the implications. The companies that understood how important mobile would be, and focused on the changes and opportunities have won big. The Wall Street Journal “Billion Dollar Club” lists the ventured backed companies by order of valuation, and the top two entries, Uber and Airbnb were enabled by the shift to a mobile centric world.

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