The Next “Moonshot” Race?
Over fifty-three million Americans watched the grainy, black-and-white footage of the Apollo 11 lunar landing vessel as it landed on the moon on July 20,1969. Neil Armstrong emerged from the vessel, floated down to the moon’s surface, and said one of the most famous sentences ever recorded: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The lunar landing occurred during one of the tensest periods of the inter-continental rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Both countries invested huge amounts of money in their respective space programs with the goal to send humans to the moon. The Soviet Union was the first country to send a satellite, Sputnik 1, to orbit Earth on October 4, 1957. This was followed on August 19,1960 by the Soviet Union who launched a rocket with two dogs into space. The rocket orbited the Earth for twenty-four hours before returning safely to Earth. Less than one year later, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to enter space in a Soviet Vostok Spacecraft.
The Soviet Union launching Sputnik has since been referred to as the “Sputnik moment” for the US This moment, and the following string of successes by the Soviet Union, signaled a challenge to the US. The US drastically increased the funding and focus of NASA on a mission to be the first country to send a rocket with humans to the moon. The space race between the US and the Soviet Union represented, more than anything, a battle for global technological supremacy.
Now there is a new battle between the US and China. This time, the US could lose if it doesn’t get more serious about autonomous vehicles as a key technology. Driving a vehicle is one of the most complex human activities. Developing the automated driving system wich can drive these vehicles safer than humans represents a monumental undertaking. Other than the vehicles themselves, the core machine learning technology which allows them to function has virtually limitless applications. The technology has already been used for things like educational aids, medical equipment, agriculture, mining, and in the military for things like drones. There also needs to be policy enacted to support this effort.
This is how my book The Future is Autonomous: The U.S. and China Race to Develop the Driverless Car begins. The purpose of this introduction is not to describe an exact parallel between these two “races.” For the race to send humans to the moon, the “winner” would simply be the first to send a rocket to the moon and have it return with a crew that was (hopefully) still alive to Earth. I open my book with this scene mainly to describe the tension between the world’s two wealthiest and most powerful countries, the U.S. and China. That tension is fueled by a competition that has a strong technological component. I wanted to introduce autonomous vehicles as a key technology in the new “battle” for global technological supremacy.
This effort to achieve supremacy in the field of autonomous vehicles was described more clearly in my book’s Conclusion by my friend Sven Beiker..
In my interview with Dr. Sven Beiker, Founder and Managing Director of Silicon Valley Mobility, LLC, he described that it is actually much bigger than sending a rocket to the moon and returning afterwards. He said, “This is much more like, how can we create a system? A living system, a sustainable system that requires much more than a couple of people. In our case, a couple of vehicles.” He said a more appropriate analogy would be to colonize the moon. This would require many different government departments. These departments would include the Department of Transportation, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice.
In my introduction, I mentioned that it would need the work of everyone, including engineers, technology experts, policymakers, and different government agencies all working together to develop and produce autonomous vehicles. For my book, I talked to professors, engineers, people involved in the policymaking process at both the state and national level, strategic consultants, and people in the automotive industry. They are all working on the promotion and development of autonomous vehicles. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many different people to develop and produce a vehicle that drives itself.
This is just the beginning of an article series with pieces from my book. In this article series, I will discuss the problems of building consumer trust and acceptance of autonomous vehicles in the U.S., basic technological information about how exactly a vehicle can drive itself, a view from abroad at the autonomous vehicle industry in China, new business models deployed by companies in both countries, and much more! So stay tuned, the best is yet to come!
Intereste in the competition to develop and produce autonomous vehicle? Read more by purchasing my book The Future is Autonomous: The U.S. an China Race to Develop the Driverless Car on Amazon today!