Driverless Car

An article by: Evan Leonard, President, CHIPS Technology Group

You might have seen the videos online of people’s reactions when experiencing an autonomous (self-driving) car for the first time. You might have read in the news about new cars that are able to park themselves – or heard the story about the cop who pulled over a car for driving too slowly to find out there was no one behind the wheel!
Driverless cars are “robotic” vehicles designed to travel to-and-from destinations without a human operator. To technically qualify as fully autonomous, the vehicle must be able to navigate without human intervention to a predetermined destination over roads that have not been adapted for its use. With Google leading the brigade, companies including (but not limited to) Audi, BMW, Tesla, Ford and GM are currently experimenting with this technology.

The cars work by utilizing a rotating LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor on top of the vehicle. This allows the car’s Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to render a 3D map of its current environment. The 3D map is crossed with Google’s ‘Maps’ database as a base-layer, and the software computes to emulate human perception and decision making such as steering, accelerating and braking.

Although impressive, the technology is far from perfect. The cars have trouble identifying mundane items such as candy wrappers or tumbleweed – often halting to an emergency stop or drastically veering out of the way to avoid a “collision”. Thomas Form, an electronics researcher for Volkswagen, recently highlighted these issues while speaking on a panel at the Los Angeles Connected Car Expo stating:

“I think probably a lot of us have experience with having demonstrated automatic driving on highways – in sunny weather, everything is fine. Do we have every time everywhere sunny weather?”

Although Google has yet to test their cars in harsh climates or extreme weather conditions, the company claims to have these particular issues (along with a few others) fixed by the projected release of their self-driving cars in 2020.

You may have seen reports in the news claiming Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in a number of accidents. However, according to founder Sergey Brin, as of July 2015 the cars have been involved in 14 minor traffic accidents on public roads but that all the accidents were caused by human error. Even though Brin may be correct, it’s a lot harder to change public perception than just stating facts.

Legislation is also a huge factor – the use of these vehicles are only legal in a handful of states including: California, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

Proponents of this technology argue that it will essentially eliminate all accidents caused by human-error. They also claim that greater precision of an automatic system could improve traffic flow, increase highway capacity, and reduce or eliminate traffic jams. Having autonomous vehicles would also allow people to do other tasks – like working or sleeping – instead of having to focus on the road.

Another potential disruptive factor to the automotive industry is that with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, a person’s state will no longer be taken into account – whether he or she is too young, too small, blind, disabled, or even intoxicated - they would still be able to travel without putting their lives or the lives of others at risk. Imagine a world where there were no deaths due to drunk or distracted driving.

As the President and Co-Founder of CHIPS Technology Group – a Managed Services Provider located in Syosset, Long Island – I can’t help but start to think of the implications these vehicles could have on businesses – for better or for worse. One thing that comes to mind is never having to worry about employees arriving late to work again – yet at the same time, if an employee is doing work in the car on the way to the office – could someone in the next lane possibly find their way onto your network? There was also a report earlier this year that stated hackers were able to break into Jeep’s ‘UConnect’ software to take control of the steering wheel and brakes – and that isn’t even an autonomous vehicle – so there are still a lot of questions to be asked and answers to be found.

Realistically I can see this technology to be first utilized in public transportation. Japan has actually stated their goal is to have fully autonomous taxi services for the 2020 Toyko Summer Olympics. Merrill Lynch also predicts that in 2040, “robo-taxis” will make up for as much as 43% of autonomous vehicle sales. Tesla is another company working on providing autonomous control to existing cars and they have even mentioned partnering with ride-sharing companies to create new opportunities and business models. The arrival of the car-sharing economy has already begun a revolution in travel, and a marriage with autonomous technology could be a real game-changer!

All I know is that it’s 2015 and we STILL don’t have hover-boards yet!