Change is a common theme throughout history, but it seems it's coming at us faster than ever before. Some companies are not only comfortable with change, but they embrace it. Three companies not afraid of the cutting edge are graphics-chip behemoth NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), automotive mainstay GM (NYSE:GM), and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).
Back to the future
Tim Brugger (NVIDIA): Graphics-processing units (GPUs) for the world's rabid gamers is often one of the first things that comes to mind when NVIDIA is mentioned -- and rightfully so. NVIDIA's relatively new GeForce virtual reality (VR) ready GPU line-up is already the gaming-industry standard.
Beyond gaming, a driving force behind NVIDIA's record-breaking $2.23 billion in revenue last quarter -- a mind-boggling 56% improvement year-over-year -- was its all-in effort to disrupt the fast-growing artificial-intelligence (AI) market. Founder and CEO Jensen Huang wasn't exaggerating when he said, "Nearly every industry and company is awakening to the power of AI."
NVIDIA's new Volta GPU is a deep-learning processor unlike anything the company's developed before, and it's being utilized by a growing number of customers across multiple industries. The Volta architecture and the AI capabilities it provides helped boost NVIDIA's cloud-based data-center sales "more than two and a half times" last quarter. And that came on the heels of the previous quarter's tripling of data-center revenue.
Another focus of NVIDIA's AI ambitions is the smart automotive market utilizing its DRIVE PX platform. NVIDIA inked several more big-name car manufacturers and suppliers again last quarter. Huang also unveiled what NVIDIA calls "edge computing," which includes incorporating AI into smart cities and powering "intelligent" machines with the capability of learning.
What was once science fiction is quickly becoming reality, and there's no doubt NVIDIA is doing its best to disrupt the AI industry -- and it's working.
Disrupting an industry it helped create
Chris Neiger (GM): General Motors probably isn't the first company that comes to mind when you think of a disruptor. The automaker has been making vehicles for nearly 110 years, but some of its latest moves prove that GM isn't afraid to begin the slow transition from selling vehicles to renting them out through autonomous ride-sharing services.
GM's autonomous-vehicle plans are hinged on the company's subsidiary Cruise Automation, which has built a complete semi-autonomous system for the automaker. Cruise Automation's software is just as advanced as any other driverless tech being tested by GM rivals -- and the company has big plans for it.
Earlier this year, Cruise Automation and GM announced that the Chevrolet Bolt EV has been equipped with Cruise Automation's software and all the sensors and equipment necessary for full autonomy. GM has spoken several times about the electric-powered Bolt being a platform for its driverless car pursuits, and now it's making that a reality.
What's notable about the autonomous Bolt EV vehicle is that it's built on an existing assembly line, which makes it the first autonomous vehicle capable of being mass-produced. The company is already testing its driverless cars with its Cruise Anywhere ride-hailing program in San Francisco, and the 180 autonomous Bolt vehicles assembled this year will likely go into similar programs.
Additionally, GM also owns a 9% stake in Lyft, which is an opportunity to learn more about how ride-sharing networks work as it releases autonomous vehicles for ride-sharing networks. GM also owns a car-sharing company called Maven, which allows users in 17 cities to rent out vehicles for personal use. With Lyft and Maven, GM is already firmly in two markets that are poised for more growth once autonomous vehicles hit the roads en masse.
GM's chairman and CEO Marry Barra said the company's autonomous goals are to "move as quick as possible to develop the technology, have a first mover advantage and be able to not only have the safest technology but be able to deploy it at scale."
We're still years away from having fully autonomous vehicles everywhere on the road, but GM is leading the way in transforming the automotive industry into a driverless-car market built on ride-sharing networks. All of this means the automaker is in a perfect position to tap into the burgeoning autonomous-vehicle market, which is expected to be worth up to $77 billion by 2035.
Becoming ""the everything company""
Keith Noonan (Amazon): If you asked investors which stocks they associate with the word "disruption," Amazon almost certainly would be one of the top responses -- and rightly so. Few companies have been a more disruptive market force than Amazon over the last several decades, and the company continues to transform retail and shake up other sectors with its penchant for aggressive innovation.
With its acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon gained an immediate foothold in the brick-and-mortar retail industry and secured hundreds of new locations that can be used as shipping-processing centers and distribution points. Now that it's under Amazon's corporate umbrella, the grocery chain is hiring 6,000 new employees -- a move that signals that the company has big plans for the business and could be a sign that to-your-door grocery delivery is on the horizon.
Amazon has also famously been testing flying delivery drones, developing other robotics technologies, and experimenting with mixed reality applications. With its Echo smart speaker and Alexa voice assistant securing an early leadership position in the connected-home-interface category, and the vast trove of data it has access to giving the company a big advantage in artificial intelligence, Amazon is in a position to play a defining role in many of this century's most revolutionary technologies.
Amazon has even launched its own coffee brand and is rumored to be eyeing a move into the pharmacy business. With its sights set on building an even more all-encompassing goods-and-services ecosystem, the company's disruptive streak is just getting started.