On a snowy Veteran’s Day in 1987, I lost my only brother in a car crash. He’d just left work and was driving south on the highway when a driver heading north lost control, crossed a bunch of lanes and a wide median strip and crashed into his door. Pure human error.
As controllers of vehicles, humans are a flighty bunch. We’re easily distracted. We’re forgetful about specific driving skills we don’t use all the time, such as turning into a skid on a slick roadway. We speed. We tailgate. We look at devices while we’re driving. We’re impatient. We’re humans and we make mistakes.
That’s why the move toward more autonomous vehicles makes me happy.
In this age of distracted driving, and with more cars on the road than ever before, I trust that technology can be more attentive than humans.
At Rainier Communications, we are fortunate enough to work with clients that provide many elements critical to the autonomous vehicle movement:
- Sensors: These tiny analog devices are at the very heart of the connected car today, and are the enablers of the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow. Sensors allow for an understanding of whether a seat is occupied or a windshield wet. They provide data on whether the passenger compartment air is getting stale, the battery is failing or the engine is running too hot. And with IoT connected sensors that understand proximity of other objects, light, colors, motion, gestures, speeds and more, sensors are perhaps the most critical element in vehicle autonomy.
- Safety-critical software: Just as today’s vehicle “isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile,” software for autonomous vehicles isn’t the off-the-shelf stuff you’ll find at Staples. For the benefit of everyone, autonomous vehicles require the highest levels of safety-critical functionality. This software has been around for decades, and is used in other highly-critical areas such as aerospace, military, drones and more. When it comes to autonomous vehicles driving down the highway, there’s absolutely no room for software that freezes and needs to be rebooted. Security is an important element here, too. Remember when a Wired reporter agreed to let hackers try to hack his connected car? See the Wired story here. The best way to make humans feel safe in a vehicle they can’t control is by ensuring that the vehicle’s systems can’t be hacked, and that everything is working as intended.
- Wireless Network and Big Data Management: Increasing bandwidth with always-on reliability is also a must-have for roadways with autonomous vehicles. Dead zones and slow Wi-Fi could translate into vehicles being unable to make the continuous calculations and assessments they need, putting drivers at risk or creating zones where drivers have to retain control of the vehicle. Better management and accessibility for networks and Big Data means easier real-time automated decision making so the vehicle can respond immediately to changes in weather, road and traffic conditions and more.
While the days of highways filled with cars driving themselves are far off, autonomous vehicles are out there. Folks in San Francisco often catch glimpses of Google’s self-driving car. In 2015, Daimler showed off its autonomous truck maneuvering on the Autobahn in Germany. Click the link to see the video of the truck hitting the highway in PC Mag. And it seems lots of people want to know more. There’s even an Autonomous Vehicles event in Detroit scheduled for the summer of ’16.
Improved driver/passenger safety, increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions are three great reasons why self-driving vehicles make sense. Now it’s time to get aggressive … and some places already are. Dubai, home to nearly 2.5 million people in the United Arab Emirates, wants 25% of the vehicle trips on its streets driverless by 2030, according to an ABC News report. The aggressive timeline should meet with the approval of its citizenry: the ABC report also noted that “Dubai already is home to a driverless Metro rail system, which carried 178 million riders in 2015.”What is your take on autonomous vehicles? Do you welcome them or fear them? Feel free to leave a comment below.