Our story begins in 2009.
It was only eight years ago, but so much has happened since then.
At that time, we were in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The idea of calling an Uber using your smartphone was still about a year away from happening. And a niche electric carmaker, Tesla, had just received a major cash infusion to pull the struggling company from the brink of bankruptcy.
That’s also when search engine giant Google launched its self-driving car project.
If you recall, at the time, the idea of robot cars still seemed like science fiction – a long way out in the future. And any work being done in this space was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
That’s what makes Google’s foray into this space so remarkable. Here was this young private-sector company willing to put significant resources into what the firm has described as a “moon shot.” This bet on autonomous vehicles represented an unprecedented level of commitment by the private sector for an unproven, highly expensive technology.
But today that bet is starting to pay off with wide-ranging ramifications.
To date, Google’s self-driving car project – now branded as Waymo – has logged over 3 million autonomous miles. And that success has spurred on a lot of healthy competition, with traditional automakers and other Silicon Valley companies entering the race. Industry consensus is that we’ll start seeing at least Level 3 autonomous vehicles – where the human driver must still be ready to take back control when the system requests – legally hitting the market in 2021.
Let that sink in for a moment. That’s less than four years from now.
And sure, there are still big hurdles and many questions – beyond the technology – that government, industry and citizens must answer before robots will rule the roads. But the U.S. and other world governments are actively working on developing legal frameworks to address societal concerns and give automakers the regulatory clarity they need to go all-in with autonomous vehicle production.
As a journalist who has covered the fleet industry for over a decade, I spend a lot of time talking with smart people about the intersection of technology and transportation. From what I’m hearing – and if the past year is any indication – we’re accelerating toward a self-driving world.
So, what’s your plan? How will you adapt to the big changes coming soon to our industry?
Sean M. Lyden