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The future is autonomous.


Tesla announced, hours ago, that its Model 3 cars would be rolling off their $11 billion Gigafactory conveyor belts on Friday, July 7. The Model 3 is their consumer-friendly car. At $35,000, the Model 3 is projected to help Tesla sell 500,000 cars in 2018. This will have far-reaching consequences not just in the auto industry but for every aspect of engineering and electronics. Tesla’s mission is not to create a future car, but rather, to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

In the process, though, they’re upending several existing paradigms.

One such disruption is helping create autonomous vehicles. At this point, the autonomous vehicle par excellence remains Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car. Here’s what it looks like:

And here’s an informative Waymo blog post about their custom-built self-driving hardware.

But Waymo is a “future” device. It’s not available quite yet, and when it comes to the marketplace, there will be several hurdles to cross before your average, non-tech-oriented user can feel comfortable hopping into a self-driving car. Tesla’s Model 3, on the other hand, could be yours if you pre-ordered it in 2016.

One of Tesla’s biggest contributions to the industry—not just the auto industry but anything touched by engineering—is how they normalize technologies that the average person would not have thought about. This pulls the industry forward, and, thanks largely to these efforts, Audi and Cadillac have versions of autonomous driving vehicles coming to market soon.

Audi’s autonomous A8 will be announced on July 11, and you can see spy video here. Cadillac’s Super Cruise has been in the works for years, and is finally coming to market. Ars Technica has an excellent run-down on the convergence of different technologies that make it possible. Also noteworthy is how NVidia is creating autonomous driving technology that can be fitted into other cars and plans to release an entirely autonomous, AI-driven car in partnership with Audi by 2020.

As we explained in our post on Amazon Go, any “big” technological breakthrough will have ripple effects that are both numerous and often unforeseen. And it’s often the tiniest things that build up and lead to the tipping point. To that end, here’s Piaggio Group’s Gita. “We believe that the 21st century will be the century of robotic movability.”

The Gita uses many of the same technologies as self-driving cars, as do smart suitcases like luggage from companies like Travelmate Robotics:

Autonomous vehicles help robots map out the physical world. This, in turn, lets us live smarter and safer. Where will these technologies take us next? As ECE students, you will be among the thought leaders who dream up the future and make it possible.


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