Fully autonomous vehicles might not be ready soon, but a number of advancements and industry changes are propelling us closer to the driverless dream.
From advancements in vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology to the possibility of new autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation, safety is likely to take center stage. Electrification is already getting a boost now that Tesla has overtaken BYD Auto to become the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) maker. But that market will only intensify with the announcement that General Motors will spend $2.2 billion upgrading its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for AV and EV production. And that’s not all – robo-taxis could also play a major role, along with more vehicles relying on over-the-air (OTA) updates. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these will impact the future of mobility.
When vehicles talk, everybody listens
Without question, V2V technology will be an essential part of mobility’s future. Whether cruising around in a semi-autonomous sedan or a fully automated pod straight out of science fiction, these cars will need to communicate. They’ll rely on this technology to inform each other about traffic conditions including road hazards – such as potholes, ice patches, and fallen trees.
When the first V2V-equipped vehicle discovers an accident, it could relay that information to all other automobiles, allowing them to take appropriate action and, when possible, safely move on to another lane. This technology will also be useful at intersections, as cars will be able to tell – in real-time – who else is approaching and at what speeds. Autonomous vehicles would then be able to slow down or speed up accordingly, creating a seamless mobility experience that is much more efficient than the stop-and-go traffic of today.
They’ll listen to the surrounding environment, too
But even without self-driving cars, many of those features could be extremely useful in educating and informing drivers about the road ahead. This is especially true when V2X is applied. While autonomous cars will absolutely benefit from being connected to everything around them (cities, traffic lights, road and construction signs, etc.), human-driven cars could also be improved by this level of connectivity. With the full 5G rollout inching closer every day, V2V and V2X will evolve from being an exciting concept of the future to becoming a plausible set of features that can now be implemented.
Just think of how great it would be to receive real-time updates regarding malfunctioning traffic lights, downed stop signs or roads that are mere minutes away from closing. This invaluable information would be useful to any driver, especially during busier travel times when traffic is especially heavy.
Vehicles are also starting to keep an eye on who’s behind the wheel
Human control will remain a part of the mobility experience for some time, so that means automakers need real-world solutions today for keeping all occupants safe. Driver monitoring is one of the key technologies for accomplishing this goal. Helped by advances in facial analysis technology, driver monitoring utilizes both sensors and artificial intelligence to determine if a driver is drowsy or dozing off. The car would then alert the driver with audible or physical (vibration) cues.
And that’s just the beginning. With semi-autonomous features added in, a car could feasibly pull over and park itself if the driver falls asleep, is sick or otherwise unable to maintain control of the vehicle. Small children could be detected to ensure they are never left behind in a hot or cold vehicle. The potential is near limitless for what driver monitoring could achieve.
Cars are getting so smart, soon they will start to update themselves
Automatic updates have been a common feature in smartphones, tablets and PCs for several years. Outside of the few cars sold by Tesla, most automobiles do not offer the same functionality. But it’s a necessary feature that not only makes simple software updates easier, it will open the door to a realm of new possibilities.
With over-the-air (OTA) technology, cars will not only be updatable – they will be upgradeable from a software standpoint. Configurable dashboards are just the beginning. Imagine the potential for a car that adds new self-park features over time as the software improves. As cars become more autonomous, there is tremendous potential for downloading additional entertainment options beyond streaming music (think movies, TV, and video games). But that’s not all – in-car video conferencing could make it possible to take care of work meetings before you even get to the office. All of this could tie into another important evolution in mobility: robo-taxis.
Before you know it, the driver will feel more like a passenger
The first real test of autonomy could come as automakers and mobility startups attempt to introduce more robo-taxis beyond the testing phase. Designed to pick up and drop off passengers without the need for a driver at the wheel, robo-taxis could be an outstanding solution to congested environments. They could be more efficient, operate around the clock and commute at optimal speeds (both for functionality and fuel economy).
Expect robo-taxis to first debut at airports, college campuses and other environments that could greatly benefit from a modern transportation solution. These scenarios could serve as a terrific testing ground for the technology, allowing manufacturers to prove the idea before it’s rolled out to more cities and locations. The lower speed requirements (airport shuttles don’t need to travel 70 mph) mean these vehicles could be up and running much sooner than the fully autonomous, drive-anywhere cars of the future.
Driving toward the future
Between new technologies in automobiles and related uses for tech developed outside the space (such as facial analysis), there are numerous developments to keep an eye on. They might prove to be the most significant steps forward in the future of mobility.
Volker Politz is the vice president of segment marketing at Imagination Technologies. He has over 30 years of experience in semiconductor and technology companies. With a background touching on several industries – namely engineering, marketing, sales and management – he has worked with companies in Asia, Europe and the United States, including executive roles at Hitachi and Renesas.