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Hacking Satellite: Autonomous Cars Part 1

The topic for this week’s Hacking Satellite blog should come as no surprise, as I announced it as a topic we would be covering this year, and, as if by some form of prophecy and relevance wizardry, news broke last week that Lyft would begin testing autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Lyft is not the first to offer a self-driving ride system, as Uber launched pilot programs in Tempe and Pittsburgh, but Lyft is the first to offer a program in San Francisco, which is typically the bellwether for tech that will be everywhere within a year, given a successful test. Autonomous cars being “the future of transportation in America” ended a little over 2 years ago, and it is safe to say that 2018 will be the last year for early movers to establish themselves.

The introduction of autonomous vehicles will drive trillions of dollars worth of business and innovation over the next 5 years alone. If that figure seems lofty, consider the fact that the global revenue for smartphone sales in 2017 is already estimated to be $470B, and that doesn’t include revenues from apps or revenues from mobile carrier plan contracts. The trillions of dollars worth of revenues, however, present as an amalgamation of cannibalized revenues (direct relationship to loss of sales in other categories), recapture revenues (direct relationship to increase of sales in other categories), and new revenues (completely unrelated to other categories). One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that business as usual simply cannot be a company’s plan between 2018-2024, or that company will be fighting to survive by 2028, regardless of their direct or indirect relationship to autonomous vehicles.

Much like the smartphone revolution, autonomous cars pose business opportunities for infrastructure providers, equipment manufacturers, accessory producers, innovative engineering firms, agencies, and consulting firms, while simultaneously spawning entirely new sectors within the service and support industries. The birth of an ecosystem of this magnitude will also reprioritize investment dollars from private firms as well as governments, meaning companies must begin considering the ways in which these shifts will affect their operations, sales, and product lines. Identifying the opportunities for your company will help you determine which of the 3 types of revenue you stand to capture or lose (see above) and how to adjust your product strategies accordingly.

Opportunities - Infrastructure

Infrastructure development and rollout for autonomous vehicles will occur in two major phases and within two major categories. The first of these phases is almost complete, and it includes the foundation work for viability and use. The second of these phases is that in which most of the non-direct revenues will be generated, and is marked by the move toward optimizing everything for autonomous vehicles. The two major infrastructure categories are physical and digital, as one would expect with a product that is a similar hybrid. Phase 2 physical infrastructure opportunities lie with firms that can help with the development of smarter roadways, fuel/energy sourcing, idling plans, and systems for making it wiser to choose autonomous vehicles to manually-operated counterparts. Late phase 2 physical infrastructure will likely be focused on commercial trucking and public transport, as these will be more difficult to achieve than private passenger. If your company has the ability to pull a chair to the table for any of these solutions, governments and private companies will be sending out RFPs for your services very soon; have your plans in place, and know how you can solve for these needs.

Phase 2 digital infrastructure will support the data ecosystem that will exist between autonomous vehicles and other vehicles, and then between the vehicles and the physical infrastructure mentioned in the previous paragraph, and finally with the equipment, software, service, and support products that will follow. The daily amount of data movement within this ecosystem will rival the daily amount of data exchange on the internet, and there will be plenty of opportunities for companies that can offer storage, networking, data gathering devices or software (road conditions, traffic, logistical algorithms, etc), and a multitude of other data-related products and services to optimize autonomous vehicle efficiency.

Opportunities - Service and Support

With the introduction of a new product, there is almost always a subsequent need for service and support, which so many companies are willing and ready to provide. This can manifest in the form of insurance, maintenance, repair, accessories, and enhancements. Customization, personalization, and commercialization, along with a number of “otherations” will surely follow the popularization of autonomous vehicles. For the satellite industry in particular, there will be bountiful opportunities to outfit vehicles with tracking services, recording devices that can transform the cars into mobile content creation engines, and much more.

For the most part, the Service and Support sector will be the source of most recapture revenues created by autonomous vehicles at first, as most companies will be able to leverage their expertise to create new products or service offerings that cater to the needs of the companies or individuals investing in the actual vehicles. The next installment of Hacking Satellite will delve more deeply into the implications that autonomous vehicles ought to have on product roadmaps within the satellite industry, which will be a better way to explore the opportunities available to support and complimentary service providers.

Opportunities - Changing Business Models

Another expansion of the industry one can expect from the autonomous vehicle boom is growth related to business services and customer satisfaction capabilities. More companies will be expected to offer better on-demand options, delivery, and mobility as a standard of service, particularly as autonomous vehicles are outfitted with special equipment that transforms them into mobile stores, machines, and tools. The sharing economy and other on-demand purveyors will see an increase in demand because of the reduction in cost associated with no longer needing a vehicle operator, as well as the ability to scale delivery operations in real time, hiring a car only when requested by a consumer.

While the opportunities associated with the vehicles themselves and the companies attempting to leverage their increased capabilities are extensive, it is important to also focus attention on the consumers that will be interacting with these vehicles and their supplementary services. Location tracking for people requesting on-demand products and services will need to improve tremendously, allowing people to make a request, then have the supplier deliver it to them, even if they move. Going into the detailed levels of use cases for B2B and B2C, and then for B2B2C is another segment for the next installment of hacking satellite.

Looking forward

It is certain that each and every company within the satellite industry has the ability to grow as a result of the introduction of autonomous vehicles, particularly because satellite, at its core, is a data industry, and autonomous vehicles, as mentioned, will essentially be introducing a data ecosystem whose size is expected to dwarf that of smartphones. Whether your company is best equipped to capitalize on the data collection piece (equipment, sensors, recording devices, and physical infrastructure) or the data movement piece (software, networking, tracking, and connectivity solutions), it will be imperative to your future success that we are all preparing our product roadmaps to meet the emerging needs of companies and consumers over the next 5-10 years. Until the next article in this series, eyes on those rising tides...

About the Author
Justin Vizaro
Product Manager

Justin brings an entrepreneurial background to GSE, and has been involved with the South Florida startup community since 2008, including a stint with Miami-based Rokk3r Labs. With Product Management and Product Development experience in over 20 distinct industries, Justin is always looking for opportunities to turn the boldest ideas into realities.

Contact Justin Vizaro at

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