Mark Schaub

No tool has changed life in China more than the smartphone, with 640 million users and counting in less than a decade. But a new device is possibly disrupting – and improving – life even more, writes Shanghai-based lawyer Mark Schaub in the China Law Insight: the self-driving car. He paints the upcoming changes, and the way China’s government is promoting that change.

Mark Schaub:


There is probably no nation which loves smartphones more dearly than China – all 640 million of them.  In China smartphones are used to pay bills, make bank transfers, buy a coffee, hail a taxi, organize a train ticket, order food delivery, hire a house cleaner, hire a chef, messaging, browse the internet and in some rare cases they are even used to call people.

If you look in any public place in China almost everyone has a device in hand and eyes intently glued to the screen. You see it when couples are on dates. Even when driving mopeds.

The really amazing thing about smartphones is not that they are widespread (they are great) but how quickly this happened. The first Apple iPhone was launched in only 2007.  At the time of launch there were many disbelievers: Steve Ballmer of Microsoft said “No chance of any significant market share”, the Nokia CEO said “It doesn’t change our thinking”.

The smartphone shows that consumers can quickly adopt new technology.

Adoption of autonomous vehicles will result in massive disruptions to market, rewriting of regulations, new challenges for infrastructure and new services will be adapted to this new “device”. These changes will only accelerate further adoption until these new “ride-able” devices will also become integral to our daily lives.

The opportunities (and risks) of autonomous cars for automobile manufacturers and their suppliers are readily apparent. However, there is also a tremendous opportunity for service providers in developing services for autonomous vehicles. Between them the two largest Application (APP) platforms in the world, Google Play and Apple, have over 5 million APPs available (although there is a degree of overlap between Android and Apple versions of the same APPs)[1].

Many of these APPs would be applicable to driverless cars and many new ones with novel functions will spring up. Traditional APPs such as looking up the weather or watching a streaming movie will also be applicable to driverless cars, but new more specific functions will be required such as more detailed mapping, parking and traffic information as well as tracking fuel and various other automobile consumables and location of service providers to refill such consumables. Ultimately, a driverless car is pointless if it still needs a driver to perform these functions. Accordingly, fully integrating driverless cars into the Internet of Things (“IoT”) revolution will allow for interoperability between your car and the relevant service providers. These cars will need to fill up, park and go in for maintenance without human guidance. Freeing up drivers from these tasks will pose a challenge for the widespread adoption of driverless cars but also provides opportunities for service providers.

More in the China Law Insight.

Mark Schaub is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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