By Devin Cowette

Autonomous-CarWhat makes a good Sci-Fi movie: One that features aliens, one that features monsters, or how about one that features a post apocalyptic war of some kind? What makes a Sci-Fi movie stand out from all the rest is its inherent ability to create a reality that the viewer can relate to, but still introduces something astonishing that only imagination can create. Once more, what makes Sci-Fi movies even more interesting is to find out that one of the astonishing factors, the construction of something only the imagination could create, comes true in reality. Back to the Future Part II has all of these characteristics, some of which might be coming true in present day. In the movie, the main character Marty McFly travels to the future 2015 (less than a year away from now) to prevent his future son from ending up in jail. When Marty reaches 2015, he is embraced by a futuristic society, one where cars can actually fly. It is unlikely that flying cars will be here by 2015, but the movie was on the right track. In the near future, cars will not be able to fly, but they will be able to drive themselves.

The driverless car, more notably known now as the autonomous car, is no longer a thing of the imagination. In fact, what is even more surprising is that the autonomous car has been around for a very long time, since the 1920s to be precise. Researchers and observers have cited that an engineer by the name of Francis P. Houdina was one of the first people to take radio frequencies and construct a driverless car. He did so by sending impulses from a following car to the unmanned vehicle (Marty; Phantom). Technically this was not fully driverless because someone had to be in the other car to transmit the signals, but it was a start. Fast forward to today where companies such as Induct, a France Based Tech Company, and Google are powering full speed ahead to create the first street legal autonomous car. “For now, Google is starting small with 100 to 200 prototype cars. It wouldn’t identify manufacturing partners, though industry reports pinpoint Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, which assembles small volumes of custom vehicles such as race cars” (Oreskovic & Klayman). However the French based company, Induct, has begun to create self driving shuttles that are currently being used on university campuses, in hospitals, and at visitor attractions (Induct-Technology). Along with these two companies, there are many more that are joining the market and looking to profit.

As an investor, now is the time to do your research and to watch the market. Google is sure to be a dominant factor, but some might find that Google is expensive. The question becomes who stands to profit? One company looking to profit is Velodyne. Velodyne specializes in the main radar detector that Google uses on top of its autonomous car (Hachman). Another would be Freescale Semiconductor, a semiconductor manufacturer that supplies a large number of its chips or semiconductors to auto manufacturers (Freescale). While researching which companies stand to profit, you will run into companies that are private, such as, Velodyne. As an investor you will not be able to invest in private companies, but you should be watching their progress. These private companies that have a strong foothold in the market could one day become public or be acquired by a public company. As with any investment portfolio, it takes time and diversity to grow, especially with a niche investment strategy such as the autonomous car. Americans once traveled by horse and buggy until Henry Ford rewrote history. Change takes time, and if the autonomous car becomes a success, it will take a long time for society to adopt it.