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Hacking Satellite: Autonomous Vehicle Infrastructure
In the last article about autonomous cars and their effects on the satellite industry ecosystem, I outlined the basic types of disruption and opportunities that would define the multi-trillion dollar economic impact of autonomous vehicles in the coming years. 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) were identified as the three major classes of opportunity that would present themselves with the introduction of a new high-tech ecosystem. Each of these three types of opportunities would exist within infrastructure development, service and support sectors, and industries with evolving business models, leaving very few companies immune to the demands for adaptation.
In the interest of paying due attention to the details of this topic, in each of the next three installments of this series, I will address the nature of the opportunities for satellite sector companies, as well as how product managers ought to be positioning their product roadmaps for the future in adjacent industries. Do bear in mind, however, that while these changes may not directly relate to your industry or your company’s core competencies, it will be altering the business models of your clients, supply chain partners, and competitors. We’ll begin with infrastructure sectors, which include both physical and digital requirements to support the entire ecosystem in the near and long term.
Autonomous Vehicle Hardware Infrastructure Demands
Autonomous cars will, almost exclusively, be entirely electric vehicles, which means the number of charging stations and the efficiency of existing stations will need to improve. Urban areas are best-equipped to support this increase in demand, but it will need to be a nationwide accommodation in order to support autonomous vehicles systematically. Stations will need to be placed along major highways in every state, and will need to be in various places throughout cities, towns, and rural areas. These charging stations will need to be intelligently enabled, grid and renewably supported, and integrated with the existing data infrastructure so as to ensure cars can find them and plan routes accordingly.
Break note for product managers: does your company have the ability to capitalize on the government and private contract RFPs for charging station rollout?
Consider your ability to: provide video, audio, and sensory equipment that can be used to monitor and manage the charging stations from a remote location; record and transmit usage data to nationwide APIs, asset managers, and utility companies; diagnose impairment and process service tickets; enforcement for abuse of equipment; remote software updates
All of these requirements will increase the demand for redundant communications capabilities, remote monitoring and management tools, geotracking, emergency situation planning, and M2M/IoT integrations for millions of devices. Current satcom hardware can accommodate nearly every burden that will find itself levied on cities and their infrastructure, so the opportunities within the Satcom sector will be very apparent in coming years, but companies must be vigilant in order to capitalize. Sources of these opportunities will be RFP repositories, hackathons, and startup aggregators, incubators, and accelerators. To monitor the development of demand, Satcom companies should be engaging with blogs like this one, as well as publications from companies like TechCrunch/Crunchbase, AngelList, and StartupTracker.
The primary purpose of hardware in the Satcom industry is to record and transmit data of all kinds, which is precisely the kind of expertise that will give Satcom hardware providers a head start in terms of core competency for Autonomous Vehicle infrastructure. The other half of the infrastructure needs, however, will focus on the actual data itself, including how it moves, where it lives, and how the vehicles and physical infrastructure make use of it. Satcom providers focusing in the communications aspect of the business will thrive in this ecosystem, and should prepare product roadmaps accordingly.
Autonomous vehicles will be gathering, synthesizing, and using data from an abundance of sources just to function. Any data it gathers from sources other than its primary built-in sensors will be collected from terrestrial data networks, which will also need the support of satellite redundancy. In addition to the standard use case of providing important information to the vehicle, vehicles can (and will) quite easily become the best sources of data to strengthen the quality and accuracy of those databases. The information and data communications infrastructure for autonomous vehicles presents the greatest opportunity for innovation within Satcom for solutions in this specific sector. Furthermore, as demand for redundant communication increases, so too will the capabilities of satellite communication networks in order to serve them, broadening the use cases and improving performance of traditional satellite products as a result.
Autonomous Vehicle Software Infrastructure Opportunities
Software development opportunities for Satcom applications within Autonomous Vehicle infrastructure exist across all companies, regardless of whether those companies are already involved with Satcom business operations. Towards the longer term, development of applications to assist with ETA, optimal routes, inter-system communications, “spot reservations” at service stations or other places in which the vehicle will need to be stationary for a period of time, and a multitude of other situations that will present themselves on a daily basis will be driving investment spending for a number of firms, including those who gather and process data that will be utilized in those applications, and the networks through which that data moves.
User experience for autonomous vehicles will also be vastly different than that of a traditional passenger vehicle, as hands and attention will be free to attend to other things, whether work or recreational. Now that Magic Leap has finally unveiled its Augmented Reality (AR) product, Magic Leap One, which has been years and hundreds of millions of dollars in the making, expect AR Triggers (buildings, locations, objects, and other aspects of the physical world) to be developed much more quickly in the coming years. Integrating AR with autonomous vehicles will also likely be the conversation topics of futurists focusing on the shorter term. Companies like GM are already working on ecosystems for their onboard screen devices, and we’ve seen the slow rollout of navigation systems that show us gas stations, restaurants, and other points of interest for years across all automakers. These systems will evolve over time to accommodate the fact that the users will soon have their hands, attention, and impulses free, an opportunity to capitalize on a captive audience that has never existed outside of the backseats of taxis (and we all know where that ended up).
As we move further into the discussion of opportunities presented by the Autonomous Vehicle ecosystem through this article series, we will see a marked increase in the excitement factor, as articles will finally start to address the sci-fi future of autonomous vehicles, like those outfitted with robots (think pizzabot, sandwichbot, or Donutbot) and lockers (think PO Boxes) that can further improve the quality of on-demand services. All of these applications, as well as those we’ve discussed today, present tremendous opportunities, including and especially within the Satcom industry, and I hope to be able to help you determine how your company can position itself to capitalize on those.
Make no mistake, GSE will be positioning itself to take advantage of a number of these opportunities as well, but we feel it’s better if tomorrow just gets here as swiftly as possible so that we can all enjoy it. If that means alerting other companies to opportunities for growth, let’s all make sure everyone knows what they can be doing to move us all forward.