Five years ago, Marc Andreessen famously wrote that “software is eating the world” in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to argue with the observation as we’ve continued to see the proliferation of big software-driven disruptions in diverse industries ranging from transportation (e.g. Lyft, Uber, etc.) to media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to insurance (e.g. Epic Systems, Zenefits, etc.).
Autonomous driving is no exception. The two largest companies in the world today by market cap, Apple and Alphabet (Google), are both primarily software companies and both of them are working on ushering in a new era of self-driving mobility. Combined with Tesla, Uber, and many of the automotive OEMs, a whole lot of people are working hard to optimize the algorithms and control software to improve safety, widen the acceptable operating conditions, and make better/faster actionable observations from the plethora of data from autonomous vehicle’s suite of sensors. However, all of this relies on the information gathered from the sensors themselves. Therefore, there’s a fundamental limitation to what software innovation can do alone. Improvements to the hardware are crucial to the advancement of self-driving cars and advanced materials play a fundamental role in hardware innovation. It’s all built up from advanced materials (and, lest we forget, by advanced materials as Purnesh’s previous blog touches on).