Cars are often a good measure of how advanced technology is. Considering how much design and engineering goes into vehicles, it makes sense that manufacturers would devote a great deal of resources to evolving their products. Furthermore, consumers expect vehicles to improve. One way cars are evolving is toward a future where autonomous vehicles will be able to navigate the roads. Let’s examine why and how some big brands are focusing their attention on this kind of future.

Related: Smart buses are coming: Autonomous vehicles and what’s ahead

What are autonomous vehicles?

People often equate driverless and autonomous vehicles. Yet, these should not be confused. As The Economist explains: “Autonomous cars will look like the vehicles we drive today... with forward facing seats and a steering wheel. These cars will take over from the driver under certain circumstances.”

Driverless cars, however, are more dramatic in their design: they get rid of the steering wheel completely. The vision of the future is one where you call up a driverless car, program the destination and let the vehicle take you there. No driver or human intervention is required.

Some thinkers prefer thinking of car autonomy on a continuum, rather than completely separate categories. In fact, talking about how autonomous a car is, does refer primarily to the make of the car, rather than the systems beneath the hood – using advanced systems like AI. That’s why some cars today do have examples of autonomous systems, like cruise control, self-parking and automatic braking.

Why you should care

Simply put, this is the future of vehicles and transportation. Many companies have recognized this and are working toward designing such vehicles. The Guardian recently reported that Apple has confirmed it is, indeed, working on self-driving cars.

Intel, too, has shifted entire resources into focusing on self-driving cars. Forbes reports: “The chipmaking giant is taking its autonomous car efforts of out the Internet of Things business group and creating a new business unit focused exclusively on the new market”.

Of course, manufacturers from Tesla to Mercedes-Benz are also investing in this future market. This market will only come about due to these efforts, so they are creating the very future they’re preparing for. Almost no city is designed with autonomous vehicles in mind and even laws have to be changed. For example, it’s still not universally clear who should be responsible if a self-driving car crashes.

How society begins catering to the advances of autonomous machines, using sophisticated tech like AI, remains to be seen. But major brands are taking self-driving cars seriously. For example, at CES 2017, the audience was presented with major players and their products. Toyota’s new Concept-i UX car comes with a digital assistant and machine learning to anticipate your needs; Faraday Future’s FF 91 offers impressive battery life and has rims that adjust kinetically as you drive; Nvidia is teaming with Audi to put the world’s most advanced autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020; not mention there were cars from Honda, Bosch, Chrysler, and Hyundai.

When this is the muscle behind the future, every business should begin thinking broader. As we pointed out about the Internet of Things, if you want to utilize the technology for your benefit, you must begin thinking about the implications now.

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