300 Baud Modems and Autonomous Vehicles

I have a teenage daughter, and in a few years, she’s going to get her driver’s license. (Which terrifies me.) And while there have been incredible advances in autonomous vehicles over the last few years, I’m certain that she’ll still need to learn how to drive — the technology and regulatory environments just aren’t changing that fast. That said, after spending some time over the past few months looking at the autonomous vehicle landscape, I’m also equally certain that in 35+ years (when my daughter might have a teenage child), my grandchild will not know how to drive.

1.
Factory Installed Autonomy vs. Aftermarket Retrofit

While more consumers are excited about the semi-autonomous capabilities baked into today’s new car models — like lane correction — there are still over 200M older cars on the road in the U.S. that lack these new features. With the average lifespan of a car surpassing 11 years, it will take a lot of time for autonomous vehicles to enter the mainstream. And new technologies take a long time to reach scale. Even with Tesla’s success, they’re expected to sell just 55,000 cars this year (which is just 0.3% of the total new cars expected to be sold this year).

2.
Persistent Internet Connectivity and Data in the Cloud

By 2020, an estimated 75% of cars shipped globally (~69M vehicles) will be built with the necessary hardware to connect to the Internet. In fact, a large number of car makers have already begun offering dedicated SIM cards and Internet plans in newer models. As cars become increasingly connected and enhanced with a complex array of sensors, the flow of data from vehicles will increase exponentially. According to one estimate from Hitachi, each connected car will send 25 gigabytes of data to the cloud every hour.

  • Distributed mesh networks
  • New digital services for passengers beyond internet radio
  • Remote vehicle diagnostics and repairs
  • Vehicle cybersecurity

3.
State vs. Federal Regulation

The regulatory environment will have a massive impact on the adoption of autonomous vehicles. So far, the federal government has been content to let individual states lead the charge in establishing policies regarding cars within their own borders.

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