Driverless vehicles: The next bust

It’s all the rage of the auto industry.

It’s all the talk of Silicon Valley.

It’s a media blitz and a multibillion-dollar investment frenzy across the globe, affecting scores of industries.

Jump in your car, turn on your TV, text away, Twitter to your heart’s content, read your favorite magazine or newspaper (if you still read them), have a drink, take a nap, pack up all your cares and woes.

And just relax. Your car is doing the driving for you.

That’s the hype from the auto and tech industries and media: Driverless vehicles could be a way of life within the next 20 years.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, for example, predicts that driverless vehicles will make up 75 percent of cars on the road by 2040.

Other university and research sources, as well as automakers, say the speed at which different types of technologies – from GPS navigation to finite optics that control vehicles in demanding traffic – are developing is so rapid and pervasive that even ambitious predictions could be met or surpassed.

Indeed, step by step, cars are getting closer to driving themselves. Different technologies, developed by engineers and scientists from diverse disciplines and industries, are merging to accelerate progress.

But the Trends Research Institute, despite these bold predictions, is forecasting that truly autonomous vehicles flooding the freeways, highways and side streets of a country near you is a fantasy of another lifetime.

Driverless cars? The auto industry is constantly beset with frequent and serious recalls, creating considerable technological roadblocks and monumental legal liability costs and challenges. Ignition switch problems? Air bags exploding? Sudden acceleration? Compared to those lawsuit settlements, when out-of-control cars start crashing and hundreds are killed and/or injured in driverless disasters, the legal damages could be astronomical.

Remember when the roads of China, India, Vietnam and other Asian and developing-world nations were filled with motorbikes, bicycles and rickshaws? What a difference a few decades and a few billion more drivers and cars on the road make! Driverless technology will meet its match in a traffic-jammed, in-a-hurry, late-for-a-meeting road-ragged world.

Whether rush hour or off hour, it’s a traffic madhouse.

The driverless-car boom, I am forecasting, is going to be the next dot-com bust. The industry can’t get ignition switches to work, brakes to work, accelerators to work, doors to lock and unlock – and you’re going to have a driverless car in your lifetime?

This is more Silicon Valley con-man BS or ego.

TREND FORECAST: We maintain our forecast: “Autonomous vehicles specifically engineered for mining, trucking, city busing… moving people or cargo from point A to point B on specific routes… is the near/midterm future of driverless vehicles.”

TRENDPOST: Remember the bubble of the late 1990s? Remember The hype and overblown expectations of how internet-driven businesses could drive mega bucks led to an explosion of start-ups in just a few years. But a large percentage quickly failed. The driverless-cars hype is following the same track.

The path to fully autonomous vehicles has many twists and turns. Investors need to be wary of the automakers’ trend of overpromising and under-delivering.

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