Self-Driving Cars: Our Future as Passengers

No matter how long it takes to fully gain traction, the age of autonomous cars will be hereCar illustration with sensors before we know it. Those in the know see it as the inevitable future of transportation, with vehicles designed as moving living rooms. Given the numerous high-profile companies developing self-driving technologies, as well as the hundreds of other small companies and start-ups dedicating themselves to enabling this industry through connectivity, sensors, and other products (see this chart), we are well on our way to becoming full-time passengers.

And that’s not all bad. As such, people can potentially create a “passenger economy,” identified by Intel as a boon to productivity worth $7 trillion, because everyone will be able to use their travel time more efficiently, working instead of driving, and the industry will spur new markets. Autonomous cars are also seen as a safer choice, with fewer potential accidents than human-controlled cars.

While critics say that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars may cause the loss of jobs (including drivers of taxis, long-haul trucks, and delivery services), which will eventually be true, the new types of jobs created in their wake might make up for that loss. Critics also note that there has already been resistance from potential buyers due to concerns for privacy and security, as well as their hesitation to trust a new technology.

But the question remains, will most customers want a self-driving car? Or do people love driving enough that they will continue to want control of their own vehicle? Mercedes-Benz recently posted an article regarding how autonomous cars will kill the joy of driving, but conceded that perhaps it will be a small price to pay for better safety on the roads.  They also noted that perhaps, as your self-driving car controls itself, you might use your newfound freedom to, ironically (and somewhat hilariously), play a virtual reality car racing game inside of it.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Explosion

Headset for virtual reality

Headset for a virtual reality experience

While those of us who are adults now primarily remember video games as joystick- or button-controlled pastimes, children growing up in the immediate future will most likely have a completely different experience to remember as adults, using motion-control games such as the Wii and Kinect, or perhaps even more likely, using the position of their eyes and hands to control what happens. Given the intense amount of resources being focused upon augmented and virtual reality at the moment, gaming in alternate realities looks ready to explode into the mass market.

In the first two months of the year, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) companies have received more funding than in all of last year, to the tune of over one billion dollars, sparking an explosion of speculation about which companies will develop the “next big thing.”

Goldman Sachs recently published a report saying that AR and VR could potentially become an $80 billion market by 2025, which is big – roughly the size of the desktop PC market today.  The reasoning behind this growth is that AR and VR will not only be used for gaming, but in a wide variety of practical applications throughout sectors such as healthcare, real estate, and education.

However, the most commercially anticipated VR and AR area is gaming. Given the recent launches of both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (and the PlayStation VR later this year), the VR space is going to quickly become a tech battleground. In fact, there will also be battles amongst the companies streaming content to VR such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Stay tuned.

Virtual and Augmented Reality: a Holographic Future

augmented reality minecraft

Microsoft HoloLens Display (Source: Wired)

Innovation is happening in the virtual reality and augmented reality universe, and VC firms are investing in it significantly.  Much like the “holodeck” in Star Trek – a room that can change into any location in the universe via holographic image—these wearable alternate reality devices plunge users into another world.  Oculus Rift is currently the leading virtual reality product, and, as recently announced in Wired, Microsoft has been developing what they call HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that layers a multi-dimensional cyber world on top of the real world.  These systems create an amazing array of opportunities to collaborate, visualize, create, experiment, and, of course, play.

Augmented reality headset

HoloLens Augmented Reality Headset (Wired)

The new Hololens’ depth camera has a field of vision that spans 120 by 120 degrees, so it can sense your hands even when they are almost outstretched.  As many as 18 sensors flood the device with data every second, all managed with an onboard CPU.  Users control the device by gesture recognition, voice, and gaze. Scenes might be anything from a 3D video game to the landscape of Mars.  In fact, the Mars hologram was so impressive that NASA has signed on to use the system right away so that agency scientists can use it to collaborate on a mission.

In addition to Oculus Rift, other virtual reality systems include the Zeiss VR One and the Samsung Gear VR.  The HoloLens, still in development, is being touted as very ambitious and bold, and will be a unique and groundbreaking augmented reality system that combines reality with virtual surroundings.  People will expect a thrilling ride when it arrives, and it will be a delight to see the inventive applications developers come up with to maximize this technology.