Niche Industries for Autonomous Vehicles

I’m coming to the end of the terrific list of questions asked by Kyle Jepson.

That’s too bad because it’s been good content for slow news days, but it will be nice to finally clear that email out of my inbox 🙂

Finally, I’m a huge fan of Otto. I think long-haul trucking is a job that autonomous vehicles are especially well-suited for because computers don’t get bored. Are there other niche industries like this that you think autonomous vehicles will take over before they become commonplace for consumers like me? And, conversely, are there vehicles that you think might never be autonomous? (Construction vehicles come to mind, as do any sort of vehicles that operate in primarily off-road environments.)

Kyle wrote this in early August (sorry for the delayed response!) and we have since learn that Travis Kalanick is also a huge fan. Kyle, I hope you got in early on that one.

More seriously, I think there are a lot of niche industries where autonomous vehicles will make an outsize impact.

Agriculture: John Deere is the world’s largest operator of autonomous vehicles, in particular tractors that can plow fields overnight.

Delivery: Cutting edge autonomous vehicles are expensive, because of all the sensors and specialized hardware they require. Delivery companies like FedEx and UPS are well-positioned to amortize this cost over many hours of delivery driving.

Logistics: Autonomous forklifts are already deployed to move heavy materials around warehouses faster, cheaper, and safer.

Trucking: Although Otto has been acquired by Uber for presumably non-trucking purposes, the trucking industry is still a huge opportunity for autonomous vehicles. Many trucks are owner-operated, and autonomous driving means more hours on the road, more cargo carried, and more money for driver.

Interestingly, the construction opportunity that Kyle proposes is a terrific opportunity for self-driving vehicles (safety), but could be hard to implement in practice.

The nice thing about warehouses or agricultural fields or highways is that they’re basically constant. Construction zones are constantly in flux and might require more vehicle intelligence than we currently have.

But I’m not an expert on this and if readers know about self-driving construction vehicles, please put them in the comments!

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