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As we take our first steps into the new decade, it’s an interesting time to take a look at just how far technology has progressed. While we are at the ubiquitous robot workers stage, we certainly benefit from advances that define our current digital landscape. One area of futuristic technology that is gaining ground is autonomous vehicles (AV).
We now understand enough of how this technology can functions that it seems like an inevitability rather than a fantastical sci-fi possibility. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a reality of our home and work lives today, and it is beginning to be implemented in aspects of transportation. That’s not to say that all of us are happy with this fact; we have concerns about what this could mean for our safety, and for our genuine enjoyment of driving a vehicle.
Is 2020 the year that autonomous vehicles start to populate our roads? Frankly, probably not. But that doesn’t mean to say that we won’t see bold steps in that direction. Technology which includes elements of self-driving is already being introduced to cars. We’ll take a look at the expectations for the year ahead, and our position on the path toward fully autonomous vehicles.
One of the primary elements of the discussion surrounding self-driving cars is safety. On one hand, there is great potential to improve safety by removing the possibility of human error. However, we can not currently trust cars to drive themselves, as the technology can not yet reliably sense and respond to road conditions. Not to mention that, as stipulated by the Collingridge Dilemma, we may not appreciate the full extent of potential problems until the technology is entrenched.
In some ways, we hold much higher standards for autonomous vehicles than for human drivers; we expect AVs to be able to react swiftly and faultlessly to any given situation. MSC Software Corporation is continuing to create simulation models that introduce autonomous vehicle software to almost every possible scenario before the car is brought onto real-life roads. These simulations accurately recreate physics and road conditions, and even the types of sensors and stimuli AVs will be utilizing.
Meanwhile, Toyota will be bringing vehicle testing to public roads in 2020. In time for the Tokyo Olympics, the manufacturer will be offering free rides in its Lexus self-driving vehicles. Of course, this is partially a PR exercise to demonstrate technological advances, but it will also act as a test to see how the safety features will cope in the busy and unpredictable environments posed by an Olympic event.
Much of the self-driving car development that needs to be undertaken is not necessarily strictly for the AV market. Improvements need to be made to the underlying software such as artificial intelligence and networking platforms which also support the ability for these vehicles to operate. In 2020, we’re likely to see a greater focus being placed on some of these essential frameworks, the most important being 5G.
This new generation of networks will not just be another level of mobile communication, but a vital tool in making AV operation practical. 5G is intended to usher in an era of uninterrupted connectivity, with data transfer speeds believed to be more than 100 times faster than current 4G. The sensors on autonomous vehicles will need to record, transmit, analyze and act upon stimuli in less time than a human brain would take — that’s less than 2 milliseconds. A feat that only becomes possible with this kind of network support.
One of the greatest challenges of AV adoption is Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication, which will essentially connect every vehicle on the road with each other, sharing important information about upcoming obstacles and changes in conditions. A network like 5G, that offers constant connectivity, even in high-demand areas, is required for this to function effectively — an interruption in the flow of data could seriously compromise safety.
We often focus on the purely technical aspects of self-driving cars. What software is being developed, how the vehicles respond to roads; the physical nuts-and-bolts of how the technology functions. While it is just a matter of time until reliable systems are developed to operate AVs, this isn’t the only obstacle to widespread implementation. There are still elements of infrastructure and legislation that must be in place. We can expect some of these begin to be addressed within the next year.
With current US legislation, all vehicles must have traditional human-operated controls. Forty-one states have produced legislation or executive orders regarding the testing or implementation of AVs, but to date, there has been no successful federal regulation passed. The year 2018 saw the AV START Act, which would allow AVs on roads, fail in the senate. However, the groundwork has been put into place for efforts to begin again, which may find 2020 as the year a similar act makes some progress.
There is also the issue of how ready we are to accept AVs into our lives. This year will see the continuation of programs, such as Texas’ Smart Mobility — implementing smart technology solutions to create traffic management processes that will support self-driving cars in the near future. However, there will also need to be a certain focus on convincing the public that AVs are a realistic and affordable option. We have already seen the government introduce incentives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles. It may be the case that more and greater tax credits need to be introduced to spread the use of these potentially safer vehicles.
While most of us have accepted that self-driving vehicles are an upcoming reality for our roads, we are certainly not quite at the point where they’ll be ubiquitous any time soon. However, 2020 is likely to be a year in which certain essential elements begin to be slotted into place. 5G, legislation and further safety testing are vital steps on a responsible evolution to fully autonomous vehicles on our roads.