Are self-driving cars in our future?
I sure seems like it. Self-driving cars have been in the news. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all recently announced that they plan to sell cars with automated highway driving functions by the year 2020–the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Traditional automakers are trying to get ahead of tech firms like Google, which has been testing a prototype. There are also reports that Apple is studying the technology.
Inventors have been experimenting with autonomous vehicles since the 1920s—when radio controls and servo-motors allowed a remote operator to direct a car through the thick of New York City traffic, up and down Fifth Avenue. In the 1990s an Italian Lancia traveled over 1,000 miles in northern Italy in fully autonomous mode. Now there are dozens of projects around the world, with governments, universities, and corporations holding competitions and offering prize money.
The potential benefits are huge: increased energy-efficiency, fewer accidents, less demand for parking, increased car-sharing—even reduced law-enforcement, since the cars would naturally be programmed to follow all traffic regulations. Of course, a lot of other issues would need to be worked out: liability, privacy concerns, and software security. Hacking could be a serious problem. On the other hand, hot-wiring will be pretty hard. Passwords and cryptography will become even more important.
Still, for all these concerns, self-driving cars seem inevitable. Transportation is a basic human need. And once we build a machine, we want it to go somewhere. We just need to be sure it goes where it’s told.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer