Why autonomous car won't be 5G killer application any time soon

May 22, 2019 12:44
Tesla has been one of the frontrunners in the field of autonomous vehicles. Photo: Reuters

The US-China trade war continues to escalate. Washington is trying all means to stop Huawei from capturing US and European markets.

The Trump administration is apparently keen on stopping or at least slowing down China’s 5G development.

The 5G race could spark a tech cold war between the United States and China, similar to the space race between US and the then Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s.

Is 5G really that important?

True, 5G outperforms in terms of speed and response time, and in supporting the Internet of Things. But as I have said a number of times before, the technology still lacks the "killer apps" targeting consumers.

Instead, most potential applications are related to surveillance as well as industrial and military uses.

But the line separating civil, government and military applications are becoming increasingly blurred, and this is making policymakers nervous.

The autonomous vehicle could become the most anticipated 5G killer app for the mass market.

Initially, it’s expected to be introduced next year and enter the mainstream by 2030.

However, various developments show that things are slowing down and most automakers are postponing their plans for self-driving cars.

Klaus Fröhlic, head of research and development at BMW, said he is concerned that billions of dollars invested by the industry might never yield any return.

It seems there are still a number of key technical problems that need to be resolved.

The trolley dilemma has been discussed for a long time. In case of emergency, how should a self-driving car be programmed to respond? When a crash is certain, which should it choose between two sets of people? This involves complex moral issues.

Handling unexpected situations remain a big challenge for self-driving cars.

Tesla has been one of the frontrunners in this field. But based on my personal experience, I have reservations about the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot system.

There have been at least four fatal accidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot system in recent years.

Also, humans are usually resistant to new stuff. Surveys show that only 25 percent of Americans are willing to ride on vehicles without a backup driver.

Some auto industry insiders think autonomous cars have to be 10 times or even 100 times safer than vehicles with human drivers before they will be widely accepted.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 21

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Eddie Tam is the founder and CEO of Central Asset Investments.