We should have seen it coming. The decline of the relationship between human and car has been gathering pace for years. First we saw automatic transmission replacing manual gear changes, then cruise control removed the need for pedal pushing on long open roads, and finally GPS systems replaced the map. Now, it seems the next major revolution of the motor industry will be driverless cars, doing away with the human input altogether.
In truth, it’s probably a good thing. Despite what we tell ourselves, we aren’t very good drivers. We’re easily distracted, we crash, we break speed limits, and we run red lights. It is believed that of the 10 million annual road accidents in North America, 9.5 million are a result of driver-error.
What role does cloud computing and big data have in the emergent industry? Could Google soon be driving you to work?
It appears that widespread adoption of driverless cars is now very much on the horizon. As of August 2012 Google had completed 500,000 miles of driverless testing, with not one reported accident or incident. Ironically, the only crash in which a driverless car was involved was near Google’s headquarters when a human was controlling the vehicle.
The technology is impressive. Using a 64-beam radar mounted to the top of the car, the vehicle produces a constant 3D model of its surroundings. This model is then correlated with existing high resolution maps of the area and thus produce a wide variety of data sets that the car uses to drive itself.
The ‘car cloud’ has huge benefits to drivers aside from the removal of the physical need to operate the car. Imagine a situation where a crash has created long delays five miles in front of you. The car cloud would relay the information and details of the crash to the other cars in the area – instantly rerouting them via alternative routes. The cloud would also help ensure none of the alternative routes got too busy, streaming cars round a variety of different routes in the most efficient way possible.
The huge amounts of data collected by the cars has both advantages and disadvantages to an owner. On the positive side, the data will help you with insurance claims. Until adoption of driverless cars near 100 percent there will still be accidents, but the way the car constantly models its environment and records every part of a journey in the car cloud means that liability will be easy to apportion and prove.
On the negative side, there is a question of privacy. Who owns the data produced by the cars? Recording where, how and when the car was driven, and including information about the performance of parts within the car, the data is inherently valuable. Already there are examples of manufacturers asking buyers to sign a waiver that grants the manufacturer permission to use the car's data, and producers are likely to stick with this process as the cars become mainstream. Younger drivers may not question the idea of signing away their privacy, but for older drivers it will certainly be a sticking point.
What’s your opinion? Are driverless cars set to make our roads safer? Who is responsible in an accident between two computer controlled cars? What is the future of the existing car industry? Let us know in the comments below.
By Daniel Price