Who remembers Herbie?  Or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?  Hell, even Thomas the Tank Engine and his mates had minds of their own.  We can only presume they all had secret contracts with Amazon Web Services.  Both Amazon and their market competitors, Microsoft Azure, are reportedly in talks to partner their cloud computing know-how with digital mapping firm Here, with Amazon even looking to take a permanent stake in the business.  Acquired by BMW, Audi and Daimler in 2015, Here has aspirations to start producing self-driving cars using the cloud computing capacity offered by Amazon and Microsoft.  This is a further indication of the widening IT horizons that the cloud is consistently creating – so what do self-driving cars, and the potential of the cloud, mean for the future?

In terms of the cars themselves, there is an ongoing debate about how they might reduce the number of accidents or degree of congestion on our roads, what impact they would have on fuel consumption and traffic enforcement, and whether we’d ever be able to find a parking space again.  (Since they’re obviously so abundant right now.)  What common sense surely tells us, however, is that self-driving cars would allow their human inhabitants to be getting on with something else.  This is where their true potential lies.  Not only will the cloud be directing the car itself, but it is already enabling users to work outside the traditional office environment.  Wherever they are, whatever device they are using, the cloud allows them to securely access any company data they need and work normally.  There is an argument to say, therefore, that self-driving cars would help propel productivity in business!

Yet the development opens a broader outlook about just how much the cloud can achieve.  Is it now steering us into the realms of science-fiction?  The truth is that the future is, by definition, unpredictable, and it is near enough impossible to pinpoint exactly what the cloud will ultimately achieve.  What we can say, however, is that it is driving most innovation in software.  In February we published an article about cloud robotics; we have published a number of pieces involving the cloud-fuelled Internet of Things.  The trend that is now urging on the majority of technological advances is the idea of integrating devices, making everything compatible with everything else for the sake of efficiency.  To put it simply, self-driving cars are only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the potential cloud is set to unleash in electronic devices.

Moreover, self-driving cars are a prime example of how the cloud enables device automation.  It is the same in a business context too.  Modern business is turning to storing data and applications in the cloud because of the seamless, automatic updates that it provides.  Just as the self-driving cars allows drivers to become passengers, focusing on something, so the cloud desktop allows IT managers and maintenance staff to focus on their priorities.  They are unfettered by time-consuming downtime while a device or entire network upgrades to the latest edition of a particular software app.  In this way, the cloud desktop allows businesses to stay in immediate touch with technological advances, never permitting them to fall behind in the industry race.

Self-driving cars are unlikely (just yet) to herald the dawn of some Wall-E-esque artificial intelligence explosion.  However, they represent yet another giant leap forward for cloud computing, both in terms of its own capacity and in terms of human innovation for how it can be used.  The truth is that nobody quite knows where it will go next – apart from forward.  Those businesses who want to stay ahead in the global race are along for the ride.