Will Big Tech Accelerate Self-Driving Cars?

Getting to a driverless future

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft is the latest Big Tech company to invest in self-driving research and technology.
  • Experts say Big Tech helping autonomous technology will help innovate and normalize self-driving cars faster.
  • There will be hurdles to overcome with Big Tech entering the space, such as privacy issues and overall trust.
Smart car evaluating the road with sensors and futuristic technology
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Microsoft is joining the self-driving sector by partnering with GM to create autonomous technology.

The Windows maker isn’t the only Silicon Valley company to get into autonomous driving. In December, Amazon's Zoox subsidiary revealed a self-driving robotaxi that can travel up to 75 mph. Even though Microsoft and Amazon are not automotive companies, experts say their expertise will help make self-driving vehicles an eventual reality, but not without some hurdles along the way.

"Big name players will certainly help increase the speed at which we are able to roll out self-driving fleets," wrote TerraNet CEO Pär-Olof Johannesson, to Lifewire in an email. "Big Tech has their work cut out for them: prioritize safety in their rollouts."

A Self-Driving Future 

Autonomous vehicle technology has been in the works since the 1980s, but we’ve yet to really make self-driving cars normal and obtainable. Of course, big players like Tesla already are succeeding in the market, but experts say we need more innovation to make the technology more widespread and more accepted, and that Big Tech will help.

The car industry as we know will likely change forever, which can be good and bad depending on whether or not you personally support this vision.

"There’s a lot of expertise in tech—especially in [artificial intelligence]—that I think would take a long time to create in the automotive world itself," Kelly Franznick, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Blink, told Lifewire in a phone interview.

Franznick said this kind of outside expertise is needed for established automakers to develop and implement self-driving technology. He added that Big Tech is entering this space all at once now because people finally realize we’re heading to a self-driving future.

man experience to riding an autonomous self driving car
PonyWang / Getty Images

"Many people are seeing [self-driving cars] as inevitable now—it’s not just an experiment anymore, but they really see it as a viable future," Franznick said. 

However, the future of every household having an autonomous vehicle parked in their garage is still far off, and Franznick thinks the technology will first appear in other types of transportation. 

"You might have self-driving ridesharing or delivery vehicles become the new normal in 3-5 years," he said. 

Potential Roadblocks 

As with all new technology, self-driving vehicles certainly have a long road ahead of them to move into the mainstream. And because Big Tech is involved now, there are other issues added to those roadblocks.

One potential problem is the overall lack of trust that many people, including the government, have in Big Tech companies. Microsoft and Amazon are both under antitrust investigations, and there have been issues with user privacy, as well.

Experts say when you introduce AI self-driving capabilities into vehicles, they will become more vulnerable to privacy issues—on top of Big Tech’s existing privacy concerns.

cars on a highway being scanned
AerialPerspective Images / Getty Images

"For example, zero-day exploits that enable a full takeover of the car's functions or privacy policies concerning services such as OnStar," wrote Ashley Simmons, a webmaster at avoidthehack!, to Lifewire in an email. "This issue gets compounded with the introduction of Big Tech because of the numerous privacy issues surrounding them."

However, as far as the government regulating Big Tech in the autonomous space, experts say this sector is the least of their worries. 

"If there is a Big Tech breakup, I doubt that the government officials are going to be far-sighted enough to think about where autonomous cars are going to be in that mix," Franznick said. "I don't see it as a big concern."

Big Tech has their work cut out for them: prioritize safety in their rollouts.

Then, there’s the issue of changing driving culture, and convincing drivers to throw away control in favor of self-driving cars.

"The car industry as we know will likely change forever, which can be good and bad depending on whether or not you personally support this vision," wrote Cody Crawford, co-founder at Low Offset, to Lifewire in an email. "True auto purists that love their manual transmissions aren't going to be easily swayed no matter how fancy the tech is."

However, others believe that Big Tech will help us get to a point where we can trust autonomous technology and finally get behind the idea of becoming passengers instead of drivers.

"Having Big Tech companies behind the effort, I think in some sense, will give people a sense of comfort," Franznick said. "Companies at that scale can probably lobby and also help consumerize and market some of these big changes."

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