Bumps in the Road: On the Way to Autonomous Driving

by Christopher Jones | Feb. 11, 2016

The connected cars market received its fair share of attention at CES earlier this year. Exhibitors’ displays of what was in store for the future of the Connected Vehicle included advanced road mapping and drone-to-vehicle system development, but autonomous-driving vehicles once again dominated the show floor buzz.

Autonomous driving has gathered so much traction recently that it has now become one of the most (if not the most) anticipated features of the connected car. With that being said, the self-driving car of tomorrow still has some things to overcome. Here are a few bumps in the road I foresee for the future of the autonomous vehicle.

Rules and regulations.  The U.S. Secretary of Transportation is leading a new effort to develop rules and regulations for autonomous driving vehicles and systems that would be applicable across all states. This development could be a great improvement over the current situation in which policies vary by state – a regulatory environment that inhibits car manufacturers’ ability to develop vehicles that are roadworthy across the country. However, there is little clarity on how stringent the future DOT regulations will be, and what impact the regulations may have on autonomous-vehicle development and testing.

Environmental adaptability. Self-driving test vehicles have logged an impressive number of miles – Google’s vehicles have driven 1.4 million miles in autonomous mode as of January 2016, and another 3 million miles in simulation. However, current vehicles cannot drive in heavy rain or snowy and icy conditions.  We’ve already seen how existing technology – like anti-lock braking systems (ABS) – can actually improve human driving in poor weather conditions, but the optics and other sensors that autonomous cars currently rely upon are simply not able to adequately detect and adjust for bad weather. Google is expanding its test locations from sunny California and Texas to include Kirkland, Washington later this month.

Security Concerns.  Most car manufactures are still relatively new to IP connectivity, stoking fears amongst cyber security professionals that the measures being taken to protect consumers from the danger of hackers when driving or riding in their autonomous vehicles are insufficient. These concerns are valid, considering hackers have been shown to be able to gain control of various functions within a connected vehicle including the transmission through the infotainment system. Parks Associates data shows that 55% of vehicle owners in U.S. broadband households are very concerned with the security of their location data in an Internet-connected vehicle, and 52% are very concerned about the security of their personal driving data. While much of the self-driving task is accomplished via on-board processing (not through IP transmission), all self-driving cars have by necessity an Internet connection, leaving them vulnerable to security breaches.  Future adoption of autonomous cars relies upon consumer trust in the security of their vehicle.

Expectations for self-driving vehicles are high, but car manufacturers and regulators have much work to do before the market becomes a reality. 

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