Go to any automotive conference and you will likely hear someone compare autonomous vehicles to commercial airliners. It’s an easy comparison to make. Most airplanes have been at least partially autonomous for several years, so why would cars be any different?
That said, the sky tends to be much more forgiving than traditional roadways. Unlike those behind the wheel of an automobile, pilots don’t have to deal with traffic jams, drunk drivers or the many other hazards that come with driving. Consequently, autonomous vehicles might need extra help in the form of human oversight.
“I’m pretty sure these [autonomous] fleets will have fleet-controlled units that will sit somewhere in an urban area and have a close watch on what these cars are doing and can take control at any given instance,” said Sudipto Bose, manager of the automotive radar business at Texas Instruments. “Think of GM OnStar: it’s a very rudimentary example of how easy it is for them to monitor exactly where the cars are because of the GPS information.”
That information could prove to be vital whether it’s sent to a control tower (where all vehicles are collectively monitored by a dedicated team) or to another destination where it can be used to ensure a safe driving experience.
No track necessary
In the film Minority Report, passengers boarded self-driving cars that moved seamlessly across a highway. While they may have been acting independently, the cars appeared to be platooning from time to time. That’s not necessarily what automakers want for real autonomous vehicles, however.
“The research is toward keeping the experience independent like we have today,” said Bose. “That’s the goal of the entire community, which is to get a car that’s truly self-driven. The benefit should be in places where it’s challenging to drive.”
There have been many discussions about how autonomous technology will improve mobility for those who can’t or simply do not want to drive due to age, health or preference. Bose is a big supporter of that element.
“You would no longer be dependent on your physical capabilities to get from point A to point B,” he said. “If all we have is a train-like setup, then it’s essentially converting the roads to railway tracks.”
Say goodbye to privacy
Wide-scale vehicle monitoring is not without risk. If someone is looking at every autonomous vehicle in operation, passengers may begin to ask about their level of privacy. Will automakers know where its passengers are at all times? If so, what will they do with that data?
Those questions are bound to come up, but don’t expect consumers to put up much of a fight if they don’t like the answer.
“I think we gave up our privacy to our smartphones a long way back,” said Bose. “It’s a trade-off of convenience versus driver safety.”
Aside from privacy, consumers may also wonder if these ultra-connected, highly-monitored vehicles will be safe from possible cyber attacks. Bose isn’t very concerned about that. He expects new security innovations to be developed before autonomous vehicles are ready to be deployed.
“It’s a must,” said Bose. “It’s one of the foundations of the connected smart auto world. It has to be secure.”
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.