Who said you can’t read and drive?

Cars in traffic ()

Our daily commute

The average American spends 111 hours in their car commuting, this according to a recent report from INRIX, Inc., a leading provider of real-time traffic information. This does not take into account those who commute by other forms of transportation.  The report goes on to share this high annual commitment of time in one’s car creates an ‘ominous forecast for the US if traffic continues to impede the flow of people and commerce’. One key solution that is recommended by the report, and supported by other transportation analysts, is the legislation and policies to support the construction of infrastructure necessary to enable autonomous vehicle technology on roads.

Our daily internet

And while the amount of hours spent commuting each day suggests the vast majority of working Americans have increasingly less time on their hands, there is another trend that seems to point to another activity on the rise.  The amount of time Americans are spending online overall is undeniably growing. According to the Global Web (GWI) Index Q1 2015 report, daily usage has grown from 5.55 hours in 2012 to 6.15 in 2014. This fact might surprise some, and confirm for others what they are witnessing around them or are experiencing in their own habits every day, on their PC, laptop, smartphone, watch, tablet and any even with their hotspot enabled automobile. One of the big drivers of this trend is the still-increasing level of engagement people are having with social networks. The study found usage went from an average of 1.61 to 1.72 hours daily. Also a newer trend is the growing enthusiasm for micro-blogging, as that interaction is now 0.81 hours per day.

Microblogging ()

As the GWI report states, ‘these engagement figures mean that social networking now accounts for almost 30 per cent of our daily internet activities, with micro-blogging approaching the 15 per cent mark’. What is more remarkable is the pundits who were so quick to declare the decline of social networking clearly called it too soon. What’s more, according to GWI, the overall time people are spending on the web outside the home, on the mobile web, has jumped from 1.24 hours in 2012 to 1.99 hours in 2015.

Smart car ()

Autonomous vehicles are coming

And onto the third trend: the advent of autonomous self-driving cars that might very likely provide a bridge between these two trends and create a fascinating opportunity to be monetised. Or would this simply create a tsunami of legal issues that need to be sorted out?

To begin with, let’s dispel some misconceptions of autonomous self-driving cars.  Self-driving cars are defined in two ways: semi-autonomous or fully autonomous.

Semi-autonomous cars are not a futuristic technology; there are already on the road. These are cars with self-driving features that enable the vehicle to automatically accelerate, brake and steer a course with limited or no driver interaction. These options are found on every make, from Ford, Subaru, and Nissan cars to virtually all ‘high-end’ brands. According to the 2015 BI Intelligence report, there will be over 10M cars with these features on the roads by 2020. 

A fully autonomous vehicle can drive itself from point A to point B and encounter the entire range of on-road scenarios without needing any interaction from the driver. Experts agree these will debut in 2019.

In three to five years, we can expect cars to do the heavy lifting during traffic jams and highway cruising, but cede control to the occupants the rest of the time. After highways comes the more complex driving conditions of urban arenas, where there are far more obstacles and variables. But from the manufacturers to software engineers, there is broad agreement that vehicles will become autonomous over the next 25 years, and we can expect them to be fully autonomous by 2040. 

There is currently a rather silent but growing fleet of fully autonomous vehicles in development. Google has been testing a fleet of self-driving cars for some time now and has logged more than 700,000 miles without causing an accident and at the same time has gained a treasure trove of data and insights on how to commercialize this trend. In addition, Mercedes-Daimler, owner of the U.S.’s largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer, Freightliner, is actively testing self-driving semi-trucks in Nevada and Germany to offer a solution to the commercial sectors as well as the passenger car market.

A recent report from McKinsey and Company suggests the approach the automotive industry will take is that of gradual introduction.  Technology and adoption will experience growing pains between 2020 and 2035, and by all accounts, fully autonomous driving options will be mainstream by 2040. 

The question is then: How can publishing and content providers leverage these trends to be in command of developments and not merely react to them.? As every technological or societal advancement has demonstrated, foresight is critical to stay one step ahead.

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