With no shortage of automakers working on robo-cars, and with Uber already a “sensor platform on wheels,” we’re well on the way, says MIT vet Kevin Ashton.
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In 1999, Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things,” which is how we now understand the network of sensor-packed devices, from phones to street lamps to household appliances, that are learning to talk to one another. In thinking about smart tags for labeling products, he foresaw the almost ubiquitous connectivity we enjoy today. Another of Ashton’s predictions, one looking into the less-distant future, is that we will all own self-driving cars by 2030. Self-driving cars nicely embody the vision of the Internet of Things, as they’re expected to pack multiple sensors that will communicate their presence and observe their immediate environment. For now the technology can be seen only in prototype vehicles, but it’s being seriously explored by multiple automakers, as well as the likes of Google and Uber. Google and Toyota, among others, are shooting to get self-driving cars in consumers’ driveways by 2020 , so accounting for gradual adoption and the long life cycle of vehicle ownership, Ashton might not be too far off. Meanwhile, the whole of the Internet of Things market will grow apace. Market researcher IDC puts that growth at an average of 13% each year through 2020, by which point billions of objects will be connected and the industry could be worth $3 trillion. Ashton frequently gets asked whether self-driving cars are safe. “Wrong question,” he said, speaking at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event in London on Wednesday. The question should be: “Are human-driven cars safe? The answer is no.” More than 3,000 people around the world are killed in car accidents every day, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel , and most of these deaths are caused by human error.