New Tech: Transportation Technology And The Self-Driving Economy

Carlton Doty
Vice President, Group Director
March 22, 2018

Less than a year ago, my colleague Laura Koetzle and I published a report on the transformative effects of autonomous vehicles on the global economy. While conducting the research in the year leading up to that publication, the news cycles were sparsely populated (at best) with stories of the marvel of self-driving cars. We are a very long way off from the vast economic effects that Laura and I predicted, but now it seems every week brings a new company announcement, a new acquisition, or a new strategic partnership in the race for a commercially viable self-driving car. Sadly, on occasion, we also see a tragic accident as a result of testing gone wrong – a reminder of the risks we face in rushing technological progress.

The transportation tech sector is so active today that one can easily get lost in the sea of almost 700 companies across dozens of countries, that have raised $100B in private funding since 2013. That number doesn’t even include the billions that OEMs are spending on their own R&D. We’ve come a very long way since the days of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford tinkering with electric powered vehicles.

Thomas Edison with electric car, 1913

If you’re contemplating the downstream impact of autonomous (and connected) transport of goods and people, Forrester has published a fair amount of our thinking on this space over the past 18 months. Here are a few of the best sources of insight about our future in transportation:

Of course, the transportation transformation isn’t just about the cars and trucks we drive as consumers – or even about mass-transit. We can now readily find ongoing tests for long-haul trucking, last-mile drone delivery, and even flying taxis. Meanwhile, the US Navy recently unveiled the “Sea Hunter” – a prototype of an unmanned, autonomous war ship. Even bikers aren’t immune to the pace of technology innovation as motorcycle brands like Ducati are building connected bikes, and startups like Lit Motors in China are testing their C1 – a 100% electric, gyroscope stabilized 2-wheeled vehicle that might weeble and wobble, but it won’t fall down.

All of this may still sound like sci-fi to some. But what’s most interesting about the transportation tech sector is that it’s not a single category of technology innovation. The examples I’ve cited above all require complex systems of several hardware and software technologies: LiDAR, GPS, high-definition camera arrays, infrared sensors, connected gyroscopes, machine learning algorithms, and lithium-ion batteries just to name a few. Even the battery technology itself is poised for disruption. Watch this space closely as nanotechnology start-ups begin to see commercial success with silicon- or even graphene-based energy storage. But that’s a different blog post.

To stay abreast of all that’s happening across this and other emerging technology sectors, check back here on my blog often, and watch for Forrester’s latest “New Tech” reports throughout the year.

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