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Ford Fusion Hybrid
The latest version of Ford’s self-driving Fusion Hybrid prototype. Forrester predicts automakers will become tech companies to keep up with the AV revolution. (Ford Photo)

We’re speeding toward self-driving cars faster than most people realize and the new technology will bring radical changes that expand far beyond the auto industry.

In an effort to better understand how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will transform our economy, market research firm Forrester talked to automakers, insurers, shipping companies, lawmakers, and security experts. Researchers published their findings in a new report today, titled Autonomous Vehicles Will Reshape the Global Economy.

According to the report, automakers will transform into tech companies to survive. Shipping and logistics firms will spearhead the adoption of AVs and commuting will become a new opportunity for advertisers and media entertainment companies to reach customers.

Let’s take a closer look at those claims.

Forrester researchers say,”tomorrow’s cars will be autonomous, connected, electrified and shared – and the car companies must transform from hardware manufacturers into high-tech mobility providers.”

This is certainly true and automakers like Ford and General Motors already have robust technology teams developing self-driving cars. But we would add that AVs are also turning tech companies into car companies.

Google has been one of the biggest drivers of AV technology but it’s hardly the only tech giant in the space. Amazon has a team dedicated to figuring out how to best incorporate AVs into its powerful delivery network. Uber has already begun testing a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The company also launched Uber Freight in May, rolling onto Seattle-based Convoy’s turf.

Uber self-driving
An Uber self-driving car in Pittsburgh. (Uber Photo)

Between Uber’s foray into freight and self-driving cars, it is poised to be a leader in Forrester’s other prediction: an overhaul of the trucking industry.

“As quickly as practicable and legally permitted, human-directed and fully automated platoons of autonomous trucks will replace human-driven freight – especially on long-haul routes,” researchers say. “This will significantly increase the speed and volume of a foundational industry, drastically transforming efficiency and productivity for all who use it.”

As we mentioned, a more efficient and cost-effective delivery system is right up Amazon’s alley. Beyond looking into AVs for ground delivery, Amazon has leased its own fleet of airplanes to own more of its delivery logistics. The company is constantly patenting new technology and exploring new ideas for speeding up delivery and reducing costs.

Forrester’s third prediction has to do with the captive audience that will now be able to consume media while commuting, rather than watching the road.

“As luxury car brands shift their messaging from high-performance engines to Ultra HD entertainment systems, advertisers and media companies will compete for a spot inside the new vehicle experience,” the study says. “Big brands will sponsor rides and destination companies like Disney will seize the opportunity and extend their guest experience to the commute en route to the park.”

In addition to providing a new touchpoint to reach consumers, car commutes will become useable time for workers. That has big implications for workforce productivity.

So when can we expect these seismic shifts? Elon Musk, CEO of AV pioneer Tesla, says we can expect the revolution to begin in the next decade.

Elon Musk at NGA meeting
Elon Musk surveys the future of technology during a fireside chat at the National Governors Association summer meeting. (C-SPAN via YouTube)

“Almost all cars produced will be autonomous in 10 years,” he said last week at the National Governor’s Association meeting. “It will be rare to find one that is not in 10 years. That’s going to be a huge transformation.”

That being said, Musk noted that only about 5 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet is replaced every year, which means it could take another 10 years for self-driving cars to become the norm. In 20 years, he said, “there will not be a steering wheel” in the typical car, and it will seem anachronistic for a human to be driving a car.

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