Opinion

Driverless cars in 2015 will create new business opportunities

5 min read

09 December 2014

It is an exciting time to operate under the 'Made in Britain' brand as our engineering expertise and innovation is highly sought after across the world. With British manufactured cars being one of our greatest exports, namely new car models, it comes as no great shock to suddenly realise that our automotive industry has advanced to such a degree that driverless cars will start being tested on UK roads, on the first day of the new year.

When the fireworks launch as the countdown for the new year reaches zero, driverless car will become fact rather than sci-fi fiction. This is a sector that the government has long since identified as a key area for growth, with their new years resolution undoubtedly being “to test driverless cars at scale to attract further investment and help to establish new design and manufacturing supply chains”, as Technology Strategy Board CEO Iain Gray so aptly puts it.

And with RMD Group chairman David Keene projecting that “the UK alone may expand to an industry employing 20,000 people and turning over £5bn within a decade”, Britain will establish itself as a world-leader in the development of driverless technology. 

Four cities were picked to test such automated cars on 1 January. Greenwich will oversea the GATEway project, looking at zero emission automated vehicles that Councillor Denise Hyland believes “demonstrates [Britain’s] growing reputation as one of the UK’s leading locations for Smart City innovation”.

Bristol will be exploring issues such as insurance, while both Coventry and Milton Keynes will be part of the £20m UK Autodrive projects – doing the real tests on roads.

These tests will last from 18 to 36 months.

But what does this mean for business owners in 2015? 

When one looks at the word ‘disruption’, it’s best viewed in a Clayton Christensen context; that it does not create vast new markets, but rather that it becomes the foot in the door for existing products and markets to innovate in a way that they couldn’t before. This is the way in which the self-driving car will have an impact on businesses.

The benefits of self-driving vehicles for individuals and the automotive industry are significant, and range from accident avoidance, to optimised energy and traffic utilisation, to improved emission compliance. However, this could also open the gate for personal delivery services that utilise a consumer’s driverless vehicle to transport packages between two businesses, for example. 

Research has already been made in the courier drone area, but this could be the next step, taking the model far beyond the automotive industry. Some have even likened it to the internet, which changed business infrastructure and customer service for ever. 

More importantly, self-driving vehicles will enable radically new digital business opportunities, and the potential of fundamental business disruptions from autonomous and driverless vehicles will motivate industry leaders and newcomers to expand research and development activities, and to dramatically advance the progress of the technologies over the next two decades.

Indeed, researchers from Germany, Italy, the UK and Switzerland are working on devices which will enable drivers to leave their car in front of a car park, whereby an app will trigger a self-parking process. The research is expected to be concluded this year as well, and will probably lean heavily on the driverless car tests. And unmanned ships aren’t far behind, with the EU maritime project estimating that unmanned cargo vessels will be possible within the next ten to 20 years.

SME manufacturers have re-positioned themselves so they have the capacity to deliver innovative components and services to sectors like driverless technology, and our huge legion of universities are already engaged and leading on many areas in this marketplace.

Keene exclaims that all SMEs “have to play a part. Work isn’t just going to be dropped into our lap; we need to be pro-active in showcasing our expertise, formulating strategic relationships and knocking on doors that may previously have been out of our reach. And importantly, when we get the chance, deliver.”

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