Fully autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves in nearly any situation aren't roaming the streets just yet, but almost every major technology company and automaker is working on getting to that point as quickly as possible.
These companies are making huge strides in creating a world where we can hop into a car, tell it where to take us, and safely arrive -- with no human input needed.
If you need some convincing about how these vehicles will transform our world, consider these four hard-to-believe facts.
1. By 2040 there will be 33 million autonomous vehicles sold annually
Research from IHS Markit shows that in nearly two decades, more than 30 million self-driving vehicles will be sold each year. That means that 26% of new cars will have autonomous mobility by that year. Considering that there will be only 51,000 autonomous vehicles sold in 2021, this means that the adoption rate for these vehicles will snowball over the next 20 years.
2. There's already a self-driving ridesharing service on the road
At the end of last year, Alphabet's (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) autonomous vehicle company, Waymo, launched one of the first self-driving ridesharing services in the U.S., called Waymo One. The service allows a select number of users to use an app to hail self-driving rides in the Phoenix, Arizona, area.
Waymo One's vehicles still have safety drivers behind the wheel, just in case something goes wrong, but the service is still an early indicator that autonomous ridesharing is on its way. In fact, Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) and self-driving car tech company Aptiv (NYSE: APTV) completed 50,000 self-driving rides in Las Vegas earlier this year, taking Lyft rides to destinations throughout the city.
3. Driverless cars could create a $7 trillion market
Intel believes that autonomous vehicles, and new services that emerge because of them, will create a "passenger economy" that will be worth $7 trillion by 2050.
One thing that will likely help build the growing driverless car market will be autonomous delivery services. The number of package deliveries in the U.S. will grow from 50 million per day right now to 100 million per day by 2026, and that has companies like Amazon looking for faster and cheaper ways to make deliveries. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE: FCAU) just partnered with autonomous vehicle tech company Aurora to launch self-driving commercial vehicles that will eventually be sold for autonomous vehicle package delivery services.
4. An estimated 30,000 lives will be saved every year with autonomous vehicles
Not only will autonomous vehicles create new businesses, they'll also save lots of lives. It's estimated that once driverless cars become ubiquitous on U.S. roads, they could reduce vehicular fatalities by 90% to 94%. That means that around 30,000 or more lives will be saved in the U.S. every single year, and add up to millions of lives saved worldwide.
Research from the Rand Corporation suggests that if autonomous vehicles are allowed to drive on public roads now (as opposed to just preliminary testing), they will be nearly perfect at driving by 2035 and "90% safer than today's human drivers."
Driverless cars are a reality
Autonomous vehicles are no longer a science fiction idea. These vehicles already exist and are being tested for fleet services, package delivery, ridesharing, and freight transportation. For investors looking to tap into this growing market early, keep an eye on the automakers and technology companies that are not only leading the pack but are also laser-focused on safety.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.