Vehicle Coms Crucial to Driverless Cars on Chaotic Roads

Between fluctuating traffic, construction and natural disasters, roadways are constantly in flux.

In some cases, drivers may be at a loss for what to do next. This begs the question: how will autonomous vehicles do any better? “I think at some point there will be technology that will tell the car what to do,” said Bill Latino, vice-president of business development at Arbe Robotics. “The car may come to a complete stop and then look for a different route through the cloud, or use some type of computer learning or cloud service. Those areas will probably be completely avoided first and foremost. The car won’t even go that direction – it will find a different route right from the beginning.”

Latino, whose company raised $23M to build 4D imaging radar, thinks that V2X communication will be essential in overcoming the road’s biggest hurdles. He expects a 5G network to provide vital info as it’s needed, especially when approaching potential roadblocks.

“The nice thing about a true Level 5 vehicle is that these cars don’t need to make a turn – they are bi-directional,” said Latino. “The car would just go in the opposite direction. It would re-route itself, just like a GPS today – you get an alert saying there’s a faster route to take. The car would find the same way through its communications.”

Many are concerned that constant communication will not be possible for autonomous vehicles that travel outside of well-connected cities that have adopted the latest infrastructure. Rural or outdated communities may be particularly problematic if the car loses connectivity. To that end, Latino expects driverless cars to only maintain its connectivity for mapping and/or GPS.

“In an ideal fully autonomous world, there are no traffic patterns, nothing to worry about, so you’re able to get to your location much quicker,” he said. “I think the car is always going to be connected and looking at different ways to get from point-to-point.”

Attracting consumers

In addition to the grueling development process, autonomous carmakers will also have to overcome one major challenge: persuading consumers to get inside. It may sound like cool technology but will consumers really be willing to hand the keys to a machine?

Latino believes that acceptance will begin with mobility services. He said consumers will notice how safely the cars are maneuvering throughout the cities in which they are deployed. If there are no accidents (or very few of them), consumers will gradually accept AVs – just as they have any other groundbreaking technology.

“Today, people don’t even think about getting into a plane but years back that was an issue,” said Latino.  “I think we’re going to overcome that fear with AVs very quickly once we see the technology at work. The problem today is that the technology isn’t really there for the testing we’re doing. We’re not ready for full autonomy, so the sensors are not really capable of handling level 4, level 5.”

 

This has led to a number of false alarms that are triggered by the sensors which, in turn, has increased the risk of accidents. “You have to determine, am I going to take in all the positive false alarms, like seeing a manhole cover or a soda can on the road?” Latino questioned. “Do I come to a complete stop every time I see something like that because there’s an object in front of me? Or do I just go past that? That would be a positive false alarm. In the meantime, in order to avoid stopping every time you see an alarm like that, you have to give up some of the negative false alarms, which then causes the higher probability of accidents. So, there are tradeoffs that are being taken in the market today.”

Latino also spoke about a challenge he and his son recently encountered. His son was behind the wheel and, upon hitting the exit, traffic stopped suddenly. It turned out that an intoxicated individual had wandered down the off-ramp. While no one was hurt, Latino wondered how an autonomous vehicle might have reacted in this situation. “That’s clearly a corner case,” he said. “You don’t see that often but are you able to pick up that pedestrian in between cars and come to a complete stop?”

The benefits of early testing

It would be fair to wonder why carmakers and start-ups are testing AV technology, on real roads, if the sensors aren’t actually ready to be deployed. Latino said they are conducting these tests to improve other aspects of the car, including algorithms, machine learning and environment mapping.

“A lot of that data is going to be required, so getting that information now is very important,” he said. “You look at the accidents – they’re still happening because of the drivers, because of negligence. You look at the Tesla incident or Uber incident, they were being warned to engage and they didn’t. Or the sensors didn’t pick up the stationary objects, like the Tesla that bumped into a fire truck. The sensors were set to just look for moving objects. Once all that gets cleared up, we should hear fewer stories of these casualties and people will become more comfortable with this concept.”


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