INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Autonomous-Car Tech Already Drives Existing Products

When most of us hear the phrase autonomous vehicles, our thoughts jump right to driverless cars. Some individuals more connected to this space will think about buses, taxis, and shuttle services. But far fewer will actually know that this driverless technology has been implemented successfully for years.

The basic concept of autonomous vehicles is to support charted courses using technology, e.g. software and sensors, to minimize or eliminate the human intervention. One of many examples is Uber’s self-driving fleet that caught a fair amount of attention a few months ago.

Tracking technology and guidance systems from John Deere have been in use by farmers for some time. Photo Courtesy: John Deere

What the general population does not realize is how long the foundation of this technology has been around and how long it has been in service. Large equipment manufacturers like John Deere have been using partial self-driving and/or guidance systems for some time. The operator is able to plot a course for the tracker to follow. For example, farmers have the ability to map out their route to pick a corn field, which could help reduce losses in missed crops and inefficient driver choices.

Another space where similar technology is currently being used is in marine applications, trolling motors for fishing boats.  Minn Kota’s i-pilot is programmable for following a charted route, chasing contours and structure of a lake, holding a single location regardless of factors like wind or current and the ability to retrace is steps. It even contains settings like shallow or deep water warnings—this sounds very similar to lane detection in a car.

The basics for autonomous vehicles are all around us, and well adopted. It is very safe to say product development across industries will have many opportunities to benefit from the tech movement heavily funded by the auto industry. The winners will be defined by who can creatively use this expanding technology packaged in a solution the consumer base desires.  Putting these new products in customer’s hands first will be a key to successful product launches.