Looking back at predictions in both science and various forms of pop culture, we are supposed to have a lot more robots and other autonomous technology by now. But while we don't have robot butlers and hover cars, automation and robotics are set to power the futures of some major companies.
Driving is a task many of us do every day and while some people enjoy driving, many would like to be able to turn over the task to their car for the daily commute. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) saw the demand for autonomous vehicles and has been running a program of self-driving Prius vehicles for a few years now.
So far, the safety record for the autonomous Google cars has been quite positive. The cars have driven thousands of combined miles on a variety of roads with the only accidents being caused by other human-driven vehicles or when the Google car was being driven by a human.
It's unknown where Google will go from here with the self-driving car project. While it has talked to automotive manufacturers, few have been interested. If it does decide to commercialize the technology, it could be done through licensing to manufacturers or through a system similar to the Android operating system.
But Google is not the only player in self-driving cars. Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) , fresh off launching its first mass-production vehicle, is looking at getting in on the action as well. Considering its high-tech automotive image and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's desire to do anything from solar leasing to launching rockets, it's no big surprise self-driving cars would be on Tesla's agenda.
Although Google's cars are designed to take full control of the vehicle all the time, Tesla is looking at a system to control the car for 90% of the time. The rationale is largely economical as Google's self-driving car system is still too expensive and Tesla believes it can achieve this 90% driving ability (called "autopilot") for a significantly lower cost.
If Tesla can launch a successful autopilot car or Google can find a way to monetize its own technology in the field, either of these companies stand to benefit from automation technologies in the automotive field.
Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) has grown enormously over its relatively short history. Now boasting sales that topped $25 billion in the 4Q 2013 as well as millions of Amazon Prime members, the online giant has shown its both a giant and growing.
But what if Amazon.com could take shipping speed a step further? By building more warehouses, Amazon.com's products are now within shorter distances of the people who want to buy them. If the warehouse trend continues, Amazon.com may be able to offer same-day delivery on a large scale, letting the online giant sell to customers who need a product by the end of the day.
But the Amazon.com idea gathering the most attention today is one not yet implemented. In an episode of 60 Minutes, Amazon.com showed off its new autonomous drone program, which it could launch in four to five years according to Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
The potential advantages from this program are huge. With a planned range of 10 miles, the company targets 30-minute delivery of packages in large metropolitan areas -- a time faster than any postal service delivery and possibly faster than it would take for a person to drive out and buy something themselves. This would allow Amazon.com to effectively compete for customers who need a product immediately and cannot wait for even the current one-day shipping option. At the same time, Amazon.com could deliver products extremely quickly without having to pay for shipping costs.
It will still take years to develop this program and the company will have to jump through some regulatory hurdles. But with such advantages to using autonomous drones, Amazon.com will continue to develop this program to give it another edge over traditional retail.
Autonomous technology has the potential to revolutionize industries and the companies within them. Google, Tesla, and Amazon.com are just a few among many companies that stand to benefit from gains in this technological arena.
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