By Carolyn Gray Anderson
According to Henry Bzeih, chief technology strategist for Irvine-based Kia Motors America, quite literally driving the California economy is what’s to come in autonomous vehicle technology.
Bzeih spoke at April’s UCLA Anderson Economic Forecast, predicting that a major disruption akin to the leap from invention of the wheel to development of the combustion engine — which took millennia — will occur within the decade. In terms of both software and hardware content, the technology quotient for existing automobiles exceeds that of vehicles used for space travel, which means, Bzeih said, “The recipe for a fully autonomous vehicle is already in the car today.”
Bzeih believes that California — and not only Silicon Valley but just as likely Orange County and other parts of the state — will lead the country in vehicle technology innovation. But the hurdles before launch, he said, include psychological and cultural barriers and the fact that California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida are to date the only states in the union that have passed any laws pertaining to autonomous vehicles.
“The answer is convergence,” Bzeih said, and referenced cyberpunk author William Gibson’s observation that the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed. With the proper vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, and the crucial component of good vehicle-to-human interface, companies like Kia can take driver assistance features (like smart cruise control) to partial automation by 2020 and full automation by 2030 — to which Forecast senior economist Professor Jerry Nickelsburg responded that it would still beat the L.A. Metro’s purple line extension into Westwood.