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The Next Big Thing
Self-driving cars: Why? (The Next Big Thing, Episode 2)Why self-driving cars make a whole lot of sense, how gesture control will augment -- but probably not replace -- a lot of technology, and is there even a third seat left at the mobile platform table?
-Self-driving cars, so many reasons, so many hurdles. Gesturing at your technology even when it's not misbehaving and is there anybody out there beyond iOS and Android. -This operating system wants to go head-to-head with Android. -Let's go find The Next Big Thing. I'm Brian Cooley. Welcome. We're in search of The Next Big Thing coming to you here from CNET's headquarters in San Francisco. You know a few things in technology right now inspire as much fascination, doubt, and personal indignation as self-driving cars. -Each perfectly eyed test would be correctly identified in the all-weather and lighting conditions. s -I didn't drive anything. I was just sitting in the car. I'm amazed about how smooth and how simple it looks even though there is a lot of technology behind the car. So I'm very encouraged. -New, more precise cameras will ensure the lane-keeping aid functions perfectly. -This increases comfort as well as safety. Of course the driver can regain control over the vehicle at any point. However particularly in situations like this you will increasingly wonder why you should. -We're gonna get there even sooner than we think. -Okay. The reasons for self-driving cars, these largely cluster around greater good. For example fewer accidents. Computers don't get bored. They don't drink. They know the rules of the road. They don't get distracted by that smartphone on the seat next to them that could really eat away at the 93 percent or so of the 6 million annual wrecks in this country that are caused by human screw-up. Then there's better road utilization. Let's face it. Humans are pretty lousy at driving precisely, keeping their cars in a very even gap and a close gap. Just look at this video from an experiment recently where the drivers were asked to follow each other with an even tight gap between their cars and not really. Now computers at the wheel can maintain tight gaps with low elasticity as they move back and forth in conditions. That means more cars on existing roadway with great safety. Better fuel utilization. Computers can be programmed to operate the accelerator and brake in a way that preserves kinetic energy rather than dumping fuel in the cylinders at one moment only to convert that speed into brake dust and heat the next. Edmunds estimates that even current cruise control can save some 14 percent of fuel when implemented. Greater productivity. Average American right now spends something like 200 hours a year babysitting a dumb machine going from home to work and back again. Think what you could get done either personally or in your work if you had that time back at those times. Now the arguments I most often hear against self-driving cars often accompanied by a red face go along these lines. First, I like to drive. So do I, believe me but I don't like my commute. I don't like minding a machine on routine journeys back and forth. On the weekend you can switch your autonomous car to manual. I don't trust computers. This one is understandable. After all we're basically talking about putting the same technology into cars that gave us the Blue Screen of Death, the Sad Mac and five bars but no connection. However I take quite a bit of hope in the commercial airline industry as an example of how we can get five 9's of reliability in a critical transportation mode. Related to that one is when computers fail, they fail spectacularly. Humans tend to pick up on things before they get out of hand but I have to believe that software development, infrastructure, and redundant systems can solve this one. Then there's the concern that this stuff is gonna make cars cost a fortune. Well, a lot of the building blocks are in cars affordably today. Look at adaptive cruise control, self-parking, lane-drift prevention, blind spot warning tech. Take those existing technologies, give them another million lines of code or so and permission to do their thing and we might have a very safe system that's affordable already. Here are some milestones that you should watch with me to see how self-driving cars progress. First of all those building technologies I just mentioned look for them to become almost ubiquitous in cars of every price class. Then look for regulatory acceptance the way California and Nevada have recently put laws on the books saying it's okay to have an autonomous car in public roads as long as a human can catch if it screws up. Car maker leadership, not just salesmanship. Companies like Nissan, Mercedes, General Motors, among those who said self-driving cars will start to really arrive as soon as 2020, there will be hiccups and problems on the road. The key is to handle those with a public dialogue and education. Then there's generational change. Successive generations will probably see self-driving as less of a threat as less subtractive for their lifestyle than previous generations. And finally Google. Few tech companies have the ability to create behavioral change on a global scale as Google does and has. Bottom line is this is a win, not an if. Get ready for at least a partially autonomous car in your foreseeable future. You know some folks have always complained that consumer technology is somehow dehumanizing and let's face it. It is largely virtual and representational using pixels, synthesized voices, avatars, all to create this sort of X-Y universe. Maybe that's why 3D gesture technology sparks everyone's imagination. It's sort of re-injects the primal human into the space. -We track all 10 fingers. It's very precise and very low latency. -And what that gets you is touch-free controlling of the computer. -Makers of Leap Motion envision people may be using this for robotic surgery. -Twisting the phone in your wrist twice quickly causes the camera app to launch from any application or when the device is asleep. -And then I can grab different pieces. You can do all of this with a keyboard and mouse but you know you won't be able to do it nearly as fluidly and as easily as you can with this controller. -Some numbers that move us beyond niche. In 2017, ABI predicts 30 percent of smartphones about 600 million of them will ship with gesture tech that year. Some 40 percent of new cars will have some kind of gesture tech by 2023 according to IHS. And the 3D gesture tech market expected to grow from 2 billion dollars to 15 billion in the next 5 years. 3D gesture technology will probably do best in its initial years when it's simple and appropriate, almost a-ha simple. I also think it's gonna be a good example of a technology that augments many others and replaces very few. Some of the hurdles I'm looking for to see 3D gesture cross as it moves to ubiquity include higher precision. A lot of the things on 3D gesture technology right now are coarse and laggy compared to even a 7-dollar mouse. That's not gonna work for long. As you get greater precision you actually get greater ease more than greater power. -This is about 1 milliseconds of latency. -This demo from Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group is using 2D gesture, a touchscreen, but it still makes it very clear what happens when the technology improves past a certain point on the continuum. All of a sudden it's utterly different, not just better. Then there's user discrimination. Really good 3D tech tomorrow has to be able to tell me from someone around me, focus on my gestures, filter out theirs. Then there's personalization. A recent University of St. Andrews study found that users were able to master 44 percent more gestures when they devised them themselves as opposed to just learning once the manufacturer setup on the technology. Prove it to yourself. Next time you go to dinner with friends notice how differently everyone gestures even if they're talking about the same topic. A killer app and I mean an application, not software app. The first big one was honestly the clapper. Next probably Nintendo Wii. Now it's time for the 3rd that really leverages our smart mobiles. And finally there's simple because to me complex gesture technology is kind of the mother of all oxymorons. Now notice I left out fitness and body monitoring technology. Some put that in the gesture category but I see there's a different variant that's more passive data probing as opposed to 3D gesture is simple control technology. For its intuitive simplicity and the way that it injects human behavior into digital living, 3D gesture is a technology like no other. Back in pursuit of the next big thing, finally some thoughts on mobile platforms as we close this episode. For the longest time the discussion has been who will take that third position in the running with iOS and Android. Now the discussion is beginning to tilt a little bit away from who to whether. -Running Windows Phone 8 as its operating system, this Lumia has 4G LTE and NFC in addition to the usual smartphone capabilities. You won't find any buttons on the phone's face and that's because the Z10 uses only a series of gestures to navigate around. -This is the homescreen of Tizen. This operating system wants to go head-to-head with Android. You can see you have your apps arranged on the homescreen. As opposed to Android there is no normal homescreen that you fill with widgets and then a separate app tray. The app tray is the homescreen if you like. In the bottom right, you have a back button which is quite similar to how Android works while over on the left you get this context-sensitive menu which will display different things depending on what you're looking at. -Thanks to the new Snapdragon 800 processor pages and menus are accessed near immediately. -Look at this global market share data from Gartner. There's Android, then there's iOS below that and then everyone else rolls up into an eye test at the bottom and worse than that either not trending or trending the wrong way. Similar US data from eMarketer, there's Windows Phone, Blackberry, and other rolling up to take increasingly less share of the overall market as time goes on. It's not the direction you wanna be going. Now we'll talk about Microsoft's specific prospects of the future episode, but whoever wants to challenge for that third seat or even prove it exists, they've gotta get these things done in my mind. First of all be different but recognizable. That's kind of a tightrope to walk. You wanna be different enough to justify switching pane from whatever platform the user is already on, but at the same time be common enough to have an answer to every arrow in iOS and Android's quiver and that's a lot of arrows. Next it seems as though you have to do your own hardware. I mean much to my surprise look how things have shaken up. Apple of course has always done hardware. Now look at Google with Motorola, Microsoft soon to have Nokia, Amazon is kind of in there as well. It looks as though if you wanna be in this battle you've gotta be able to fight it on 2 fronts, be affordable. Perhaps the only low-hanging fruit left in the mobile business is in the low or lower cost market either socioeconomically or geographically around the globe. Finally be simple and by that I mean simple in terms of how I use the device, its interface, and its services but also simple in understanding why I would do so and either leave one of the entrenched guys or get into mobiles for the first time which many millions of folks are about to do. Thanks for watching this episode. You can reach me easily. It's the NextBigThing@CNET.com. Send me your thoughts and topic suggestions. I'll see you next time we go in pursuit of The Next Big Thing.