May 31, 2022
WRITTEN BY:
Melinda Head

Autonomous Vehicles

We’re in learning curve mode … don’t expect a driverless experience any time soon

An autonomous vehicle (AV) is one that drives by itself … well, not quite. Software determines its every move, with sensors, lasers and cameras providing guidance along the way.

An example of an autonomous vehicle that many of us are already familiar with is the air terminal shuttle train … but it runs on tracks void of any other parties. In February, China revealed a driverless train which it used to shuttle athletes and officials to and from Olympic venues in Beijing and Zhangjiakou at speeds of 217 mph. Impressive … but not a car!

China’s driverless train, Fuxing, was used to shuttle passengers between Olympic venues

We still have a long way to go before executive AV swagger becomes a reality.

If and when we ever get it right, one of the most compelling benefits may be improved safety due to the absence of human error … assuming there is no human error and no unexpected event in the systems designed to support this new eco-system. That is a very tall order.

“If you recognize that self-driving cars are going to prevent car accidents, AI will be responsible for reducing one of the leading causes of death in the world.” (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Meta)

“In one word, it’s complexity. 99.9% is not good enough to perfect (AV) technology.” (James Peng, CEO, Pony.ai)

How can our current roadways support autonomous vehicles? The biggest challenge is not the vehicles themselves but, rather, digital intelligence. And that intelligence requires massive amounts of data, bandwidth and redundancy to ensure there is zero chance of error. I repeat, zero. Can you imagine what might happen if that annoying little buffering circle suddenly appeared while a vehicle is being driven without anyone at the wheel?

America’s roadways are not owned by a single entity. That means every piece of infrastructure required to support autonomous driving must be studied, put out for tender, built and supported in a piecemeal fashion. Do you remember when cellular service was only available in large cities and nationwide coverage was just a dream? Well despite claims of nationwide mobile service, nationwide is still not 100% nationwide, as we all know. How frequently do you experience a dropped call or poor internet service? But the thing is … a dropped call or poor internet service won’t kill you or someone else.

At first, it is likely that autonomous vehicles will be limited to a small number of highly controlled routes only … until technology is robust enough to truly be available on every road and for it to be foolproof. Not only must it work 100% of the time, it must also not be hackable or fall victim to unpredictable events.

Another obstacle to overcome is the law. Currently, laws have been designed for vehicles with humans at the wheel. All of those laws will have to be rewritten and passed by the powers-that-be first.

Industry will make the first move in its quest for business efficiencies, as it often does, with transport trucks and delivery vehicles leading the pack. No question about it.

Fortune.com article: Self-driving Trucks are here and they will transform the U.S.

So who is going to own this sophisticated technology? In America, is government the innovator that will make this happen? It will partially fund innovation (and is already doing so), but private enterprise will lead the way … and the big boys with deep pockets and political influence will win. Their goal will be to satisfy shareholders, not citizens. Surprise, surprise.

Do you like highway tolls? Think of them on steroids … because that’s what’s coming down the road as we embrace autonomous driving so we can all mindlessly scroll through social media, impulsively post and play digital games instead.

Maybe the Metaverse isn’t such a bad idea after all. No need to leave home … but that means we’ll all become blobs. And, let’s not forget, the Metaverse will also command dineros for users to fully experience cyberworld in any imaginary vehicle of one’s choosing.

Many promises of autonomous vehicles have already been made, all to no avail. Some say it’s all just a pack of lies … yes, today you can purchase a vehicle with enhanced cruise control, but true autonomous vehicles are now only expected to become a reality by 2050.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to be patient and settle for unassuming robots delivering groceries and take-out … plus or minus an occasional unintended excursion in the woods.

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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