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Are self-driving cars the future?

The state-of-the-art software that powers futuristic vehicles is quite literally driving us toward the future. Although self-driving cars aren’t quite ready to be set free into the world, each day we all get a step closer. Because of this, there are already some serious commercial opportunities – not just in autonomous vehicles themselves, but in the surrounding tech.

Taking care of itself?

Globally the self-driving/autonomous vehicle market is already estimated to be worth over $22 billion – so it’s definitely worth exploring. Don’t get us wrong, the technology isn’t quite sophisticated enough to allow drivers to grab some sleep in their cars on the way back from work – but it is developing at an incredible rate and the technology that has been already developed is fuelling the future.

There are six distinct levels of driving autonomy as defined by SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers. These levels are the broad guidelines the industry’s technological progress is currently being measured on. To give you some context, Tesla is currently at Level 2 – and Mercedes Benz recently achieved the world’s first approval of Level 3 – so things are moving quickly.

Closer to home, Abu Dhabi is a leading force in the development of self-driving vehicles and has recently been given the go-ahead to run the first trial of autonomous taxis on public roads. The project, called TXAI, is the first Level 4 trial in the MENA region and is part of a big drive to use data and technology to enhance the quality of life in the UAE.

So much opportunity

It should go without saying that self-driving cars are pretty complicated. While that is a barrier to entry for some, those who seek opportunities in a developing market understand that this gives them scope to build out a lot of different products and services.
A study conducted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Sharjah , found that autonomous vehicles could reduce the average delays in off-peak travel by up to 86%. That alone should show you that this tech can have a real impact beyond just the sci-fi theme of self-driving vehicles.
If you need any more proof that this is where we are all headed, check out Dubai’s Transport Strategy and Roadmap which pledges that by 2030, 25% of all journeys will be driverless. This document sets out the key pieces that are required to make this all a possibility.
Herein lies the opportunity you are looking for. Whether you’re a tech expert or just someone looking to build a business, there’s plenty on offer when it comes to the future of the automobile.

What’s under the hood?

Although a car is very much a physical asset, when it comes to self-driving it’s the software that counts. The software required to make a vehicle capable of self-driving is unbelievably complex. Whether it’s the data from the sensors, cameras around the car, or the decision-making based on this data, there is a huge amount of development required before cars really can drive themselves.
But, you don’t need to be an expert in all of it to get involved in the sector. You just need to be great at a tiny part. Say you already have experience running a cloud computing business. The amount of data required to run a fleet of autonomous taxis is immense. It’ll certainly need to be built on a shared, online platform that offers speed and security – just like the cloud. Just because self-driving cars aren’t your area of expertise, doesn’t mean you can’t support them with what you already have.

Power in the palm of your hand

Smartphones are now a way of life. In the UAE alone 97.6% of the population has one . Not only are they extremely powerful for their size, but the fact that we all carry them around day in and day out also makes them perfect for companion apps. We have touched on software already but if you are in the app development business there is huge scope for using your skills to build something for the autonomous vehicle market.
You could make the next Uber but for the self-drive market. Or you could make an app that allows drivers to customize the lighting, music choices, or a car’s general aesthetic. There are already proprietary apps – from the likes of Tesla – but imagine if you built an app for autonomous taxi passengers, enabling them to customize their choice in music, lighting, and route.

Knowledge is power

Becoming an expert isn’t going to be an overnight pursuit. But what if you could use your passion for self-driving vehicles and turn that into a consultancy?
With autonomous driving being a hot topic in cities – especially Dubai where pushing the boundaries of tech is a big part of the culture – you could use your knowledge to help advise policy developments. That could include how autonomous vehicles assist with congestion by planning optimal routes before setting off. Or how pedestrian safety might be impacted by lowering the rate of human error in vehicle control.
Really, you can use any of what you know to help get others up to speed. This opportunity is best harnessed in conjunction with a product or service in a related field. It’s hard to look like an expert when you don’t have anything to show for it. But if you can prove your success in the market, people will begin to listen to you.

Augmented reality

If tech demos are to be believed then the only thing more futuristic than a self-driving car is a video game-style HUD – Heads Up Display. They’re definitely eye-catching but also have real benefits in the real world. While self-driving means you shouldn’t have to get involved in the pedals or steering wheel, wouldn’t it be great if your whole windshield could show you sales and offers in the stores you drive past?

AR is really only limited by your imagination, so if you think it can be built, the chances are it can be. Whether you’re developing technology to improve the safety of passengers or offering a new avenue of advertising for retailers, it can all be very lucrative. Being a leader in the field in an emerging industry often just means being one of the first – giving you a platform on which to grow your business.

What’s next?

Experts like Elon Musk predict that 2022 will be the year that we hit level 4 in driving autonomy. That really is the ceiling to break through for the tech. Because of the potential for the market, huge swells of capital are being pushed into the industry – and it’s there for you to use.

If you have a great idea of how to support the tech, users, or even governing bodies, there is money to be made. Don’t just be along for the ride – set your business up and grow it.

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