“Cost-effective aerial drones and rovers can replace expensive infrastructure and save lives. Now that driverless cars might become a suburban reality in the near future, it’s time to use this technology now to benefit rural areas. ” says David Li, Board of Director for Last 100 Miles.
In the 1930s, autonomous vehicles were seen as a futuristic creation that was just around the corner. But without the necessary technology to make it a reality, there was little reason to invest into it.
Fast forward to 2004 when DARPA holds the first challenge for a self-driving vehicles to navigate 142 miles of rough terrain. Although no team claimed the $1 million cash prize, it did inspire renewed interest in this technical challenge, accelerating the development of autonomous vehicles. Eighteen months later at the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, five teams successfully completed the course, proving that the technology is finally viable. Consequently, this technology has attracted an unparalleled amount of investment to further fulfill this urban self-driving fantasy. Ford has invested $4.5 billion in autonomous vehicles. Audi, BMW and many others are partnering with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) start-ups left and right. In 2016, drone startups saw a record of 100 deals worth $454M in funding, with 2017 projected to hit $506 million in funding. And it’s not just drones, UAVs and autonomous cars; everything related to the transportation stack is getting attention: AI to manage traffic, pathfinding, precision positioning, image recognition, LiDAR and alternatives, etc.
If transportation can be made cheaper or faster by even 1%, then there is a lot of money to be made.
China is one of the most active investment player in the world on transportation infrastructure projects
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays a big role of accelerating the process for making the world more physically connected via transportation networks. This isn’t merely an investment from China to re-establish the ancient Silk Road–more than 100 countries have signed on with investments, free trade agreements, mergers and other partnerships looking to capitalize on this boom in infrastructure projects.The BRI will link cities in 65+ countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, via new land and sea trade routes, creating $500 billion in infrastructure deals and connecting 63% of the world’s population. We believe this initiative will bring prosperity to hundreds of millions in the next decade.
Africa is one of the most exciting testbeds in the world for technology infrastructure leapfrog
Africa, a continent that has been known for its years of under-development, now is providing one of the most exciting opportunity in the world for infrastructure upgrade and leapfrog. Renewable energy projects such as micro-grid constructions are underway. Medical deliveries by drones are being deployed. Why are all these pilot projects happening in Africa? Because they have true needs for technology as urban-rural integration is happening rapidly, thus presents challenges that impacts just about every industry. Imagine when goods from China finally arrive in Lamu, Kenya (port) via the new global trade route, and need to be sent to the capital city Nairobi. What would be the cheapest way logistically for the goods to reach the rural areas? There’s not going to be enough time and money to build up roads; however, transportation hubs are viable. As a matter of fact, these hubs “droneports” are being created and invested all over Africa. Currently for medical, but in the future for also for cargos, by introducing autonomous vehicles to this new system, a new kind of transportation network is already slowly being incubated in East Africa.
This also indirectly helps with the pressing urban-rural integration issue on a macro social scale. Currently, the rural population who do not live within reach of all-season roads lack basic access to goods and opportunities. They migrate to urban areas, then live in slums and create many issues that impact social stability. But by providing the rural population access to goods and services using autonomous technologies, people can focus more on production, less on unnecessary transportation, thus stimulate sustainable community growth. 50% of the hungry people in Africa are farmers. That is due to non-modernized agriculture practices and the lack of abilities to trade. With autonomous technologies such as agriculture cargo drones , farmers can speed up production and transportation process. Agriculture alone is a golden investment vertical with clear meaningful outcome.
It’s strategic investing, as well as impact investing
Everyone from tech giants, car manufacturers, NGOs, investment firms and entrepreneurs are investing in the future of autonomous vehicle technology. This historical moment of global tech investment as well as infrastructure is the perfect time to leverage the technology built up and capitalize on the potential. Modern autonomous vehicle tech could not only solve many problems, it would also dramatically change people’s lives.