Articles, Perception & Sensor Tech

Autonomous Vehicles’ Dependency on Upgrades

Technology is all but outdated the day it arrives. With new phones, tablets and other devices receiving continuous upgrades, it doesn’t take long for the latest and greatest to feel old and boring.

In the case of autonomous vehicles, it’s not just the perception of how fast it ages that consumers might worry about. AVs will pack a cornucopia of sensors that, for better or worse, will be eclipsed by superior products as suppliers make improvements. This could create a vast difference between model years that go well beyond the typical set of aesthetics. It might not warrant a trade-in – cars shouldn’t become the next generation of throwaway devices – but it could require a constant stream of upgrades. Without them, the road might transform into a hodgepodge of varying degrees of autonomy, paving the way for the same kinds of accidents AVs were designed to avoid.

Colin Singh Dhillon, chief technical officer of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, anticipates that driverless cars will come with “liability conditions” that are applied to the purchaser. Those conditions will essentially require that the owner, whether a consumer or fleet operator, stays on top of the necessary upgrades.

“It becomes detrimental to the whole ecosystem if you or I are one of those guys who think it’s going to be okay to wait,” said Dhillon. If the owner fails to upgrade, the vehicle may not operate. “Without the OS update it’s now heavily factoring into not only the safety of yourself but everyone around you.”

Apple and other tech companies are eager to get consumers to upgrade whenever their operating systems are updated, but that push is not without problems. The new software might have unknown glitches that cause new errors or make existing issues even worse. It’s hard to imagine that similar things won’t happen with cars. If automakers don’t allow owners to take a wait-and-see approach, then everyone would be at risk when a bad update is released.

Software is just one part of the puzzle, however, as autonomous cars are set to include a multitude of components that will eventually break. While the cars of yesterday could be repaired, Dhillon expects old or damaged AV components to be discarded.

“Today a lot of components, whether it’s around the engine or powertrain, is simply removed and replaced,” he said. “I think technology is going to be done exactly the same way, whether it be LiDAR or a camera. The sensor will go off, you will be told that you probably can’t drive the vehicle if more than one sensor has failed, and you have to simply get a replacement done.”

That presents yet another problem: if the vehicle is not operational before a hardware repair or upgrade, passengers could be left stranded. Dhillon believes this will only be overcome by OEMs and ride-hailing services that are prepared to pick up vehicles – and any of their occupants – whenever and wherever this occurs.

Will those tow trucks retain human drivers or feature the same autonomous technology as the rest? That remains to be seen. But in the shifting landscape of mobility, one thing is certain: consumers are still going to need millions of vehicles. Whether designed purely for commuting, towing or to solve other problems that have yet to be discovered, it’s hard to imagine a world with fewer automobiles.

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.