Driverless tech will steer the way we move

Uber and Lyft have garnered endless attention as the ultimate alternative to traditional taxis but they could be a stopgap on the way to an automotive revolution. If successful, it might be possible to ditch car ownership and hail an autonomous ride whenever necessary.

That’s the dream of automated mobility on demand (AMoD). One step up from today’s ride-hailing services, AMoD will make it possible for vehicles to pick up and drop off passengers without the need for a driver. “The day that autonomous vehicles happen, shared cars are going to become a very mainstream affair,” said Alex Thibault, vice-president of business development at Vulog, a car-sharing technologies company. “Think about how things are today: If you’ve got a service, you need a couple hundred cars to get great market coverage. If you’ve got a car that can drive itself, you don’t need as many vehicles to cover a large market area.”

Aside from automaker estimates, it is not yet known when autonomous cars will be ready for the road. When that day comes, Thibault expects it to profoundly change how drivers handle the first and last mile. Said Thibault: “The car is going to be able to come to you, so that first and last mile is going to be significantly different. You’re going to call a car that you’ll be able to drive, whether it’s for a short or long period of time, and leave the car in an area. Then the car will be able to position itself for the next rider or driver – or park in a nearby lot.”

What last mile?

Autonomous technology could allow drivers to automatically park their vehicles a mile or two away from a crowded environment but what if parking was no longer necessary because the vehicle was always in motion? Derek Kerton, founder and chairman of the Autotech Council in Silicon Valley, would like to see that become a reality. He said: “There’s cool George Jetson-type ideas, where a modular a shared car can plug into other shared cars and make a train. Instead of just having a convoy on the road like platooning, they actually connect.”

This concept is far from simple. Passengers would hail one of these cars when needed, which would come right to a person’s door and link up with other cars on the highway. The cars would break up and go their own way as needed, creating door-to-door service for all involved.

It sounds like something out of science fiction but Next Future Transportation is among the tech companies that want to make it possible. Airbus also introduced a concept for a modular flying car with self-driving capabilities. “You’re taking out one of the main pain points of public transit,” Kerton added. “The way we’ve historically done public transit for the last 100 years is that you wait for the next train or vehicle. With this particular model, you are doing the transit as you’re moving down the highway at 60mph. If you never stop moving, all the pain of public transit is eliminated.”

Depending on the cloud

Marques McCammon, general manager for connected vehicle solutions at Wind River, believes the car’s dependency on the cloud will only increase with time. He noted that the current connectivity options, such as 4G, are not powerful enough for autonomous vehicles. He said 5G, which promises ubiquitous high-speed data communication, could be the answer but, in the near-term, he’s concerned that one solution will not be enough. “We won’t have DSRC located everywhere,” said McCammon. “We’ll always be pushing for complete coverage with 5G but surely, in the near-term, there will be places where we don’t have full coverage. You may have satellite but if there’s heavy cloud cover or you’re under an overpass, you’ll lose access to that as well.”

Security is essential

It’s not enough for automakers to acquire numerous sensors, cameras and connectivity elements to build autonomous cars. Automakers also need to think about security, which will be a vital part of any connected vehicle, regardless of the driver. “The reality that people are going to have to live with is that anything is hackable,” said Gail Gottehrer, attorney and partner at Akerman LLP. “There’s no such thing as perfect cybersecurity.”

Gottehrer stressed that automakers must take reasonable steps to stay ahead of possible threats. She added: “I think the key is that you can’t be complacent. It’s not one of those things where you say, ‘I have a security vendor, I bought a product.’ What works today might be obsolete tomorrow. You have to routinely update it, stay on top of threats, know what you changed in your system.”

Many tech companies are trying to create a smart world where every device communicates with each other. That concerns Gottehrer, who said that other devices could create a point of entry into the car. Cheaper gadgets might not have the best security, but even if they do, consumers could leave them wide open if they fail to set a proper password. “You have to do your due diligence and you have to have redundancy,” she said.


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