Self-Driving Cars Are The Future

Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are moving quicker and quicker as time goes on. Ray Kurzweil, Google's Futurist, calls this acceleration of technology over time speeding up the Law of Accelerating Returns.

Silicon Valley, and other technology hubs that enable a more advanced society, have the ability to progress at a faster rate than other societies. 19th century entrepreneurs knew more and had better technology than 15th century business owners, so it's no surprise that society was far more advanced in the 19th century than the 15th century. This Law of Accelerating Returns works on the small scale particularly in Silicon Valley, as self-driving cars become a reality.

Silicon Valley is the Mecca for entrepreneurs because everyone knows this is where the action is. Just as if you are an actor you move to Hollywood, if you are an entrepreneur you move to the Silicon Valley. This is true of the automotive industry. Companies like Ford are opening innovation and research centers dedicated to autonomous vehicles. It is no surprise to see self-driving cars roaming the Silicon Valley roads, as they are being tested.

Brian Solis published a slide show on the state of autonomous vehicles as of today, where he cites analyst predictions that by 2021 self-driving cars will be at stage 5. What does each stage actually mean?

Here are the five levels of self-driving cars:

Level 0
Zero Automation - Driving as Usual. A human driver is required to operate the vehicle safely at all times.

Level 1
Driver Assisted/Function-Specific - Intelligent features add layer of safety and comfort. A human driver is required for all critical functions. The car can alert the driver to conditions, environment and obstructions. It can also offer assisted/smart performance and driving capabilities.

Level 2
Partial Automation/Combined Autonomous Functions - Key automated capabilities become standard but driver still in control. At least two simultaneous autonomous tasks become are managed by the vehicle in specific scenarios.

Level 3
Conditional Automation/Limited Self-Driving - The car becomes a co-pilot. The vehicle manages most safety-critical driving functions in known (mapped) environmental conditions. A human driver is still present and expected to manage vehicle operation.

Level 4
High Automation - Capable of performing all safety-critical driving functions while monitoring environments/conditions in defined use cases. Per NHTSA, this is full self-driving automation. Per SAE, Self-driving is fully possible in most road conditions and environments without need of human intervention. A functional driver cockpit is still in place (steering wheel, brake/acceleration pedal, etc.)

Level 5
Fully Autonomous - Vehicle is completely driverless. There will not be level 5 according to NHTSA. But per SAE, full-time automated driving in all conditions without a human driver will exist. These vehicles will not feature driving equipment and will no longer look like the vehicles of the past.

For more information on the differences on the levels of self-driving cars you can enjoy the slideshow below and read more here.

Solis identifies the most notable progression in self-driving cars being accelerated by larger automotive companies investing in startup companies. I asked Brian how startup entrepreneurs are making science fiction a reality and he said,

"Right now the most expensive house sold in San Francisco in 2016 belongs to Kyle Vogt, a 30-year-old co-founder of Cruise, an autonomous technology startup recently acquired by GM. The reality is that Detroit was sleeping at the wheel and startups all around the world started to not only dream about science fiction, but turn the future of self-driving cars into fiction today."

But it's more than one entrepreneur who cashed in. There are currently a plethora of opportunities. Toyota invested in Uber for an undisclosed amount and has announced a $2B fund for entrepreneurs and research students, GM invested $300M in Lyft, and the money keeps accumulating.

As we can see with self-driving cars, entrepreneurs are making the Law of Accelerated Returns prominent in the Silicon Valley. If the predictions are accurate and self-driving cars are a distinctive part of culture by 2021 then we are on the brink of advances we have never seen before in such a short period of time.

Nevertheless, government roadblocks and consumer adoption will add friction to the time it takes to reach level 5. What are your predictions on what level of self-driving cars we will see in 2021? Leave a comment below.