Bringing Safety to Autonomous Driving

We see them on the road every day: drivers who are talking on their phones, texting, eating, shaving, and even changing outfits. These drivers are partly the inspiration for some of the safety technology that is coming into vehicles.

It’s a pretty safe assumption that these types of behaviors behind the wheel will not change anytime soon. That’s why I foresee a future that allows people who do these activities while they’re driving to do them in a much safer way.

For example, here’s a very plausible scenario:

Let’s say a driver knows that he or she is facing a 20-mile freeway commute and traffic is creeping along at a blistering 20 miles per hour. Instead of becoming a distracted driver, the vehicle operator joins a platooning of vehicles, (linked cars in a train-like group following behind one lead car), all headed toward a similar geographical destination and using capabilities like adaptive cruise control. By doing this, regardless of speed variations of the traffic flow, the car maintains a safe and constant distance between the cars in the front and to the sides and ensures that it doesn’t drift from lane to lane.

This actually opens up the possibility of allowing the car to drive itself so the driver can safely attend to those other activities mentioned above.  At Intel, we believe there’s always a safer way to approach these types of situations. We can create a more productive—and fun—driving experience, and do it in a way that isn’t going to put people in harm’s way.

Will the technology to make this scenario real ever be available? Absolutely. It will, and here’s why: automakers are talking more and more about delivering vehicles that are able to drive autonomously. There is a bit of a space race going on right now and the competition will drive innovation to make safe autonomous driving a reality.

Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between an autonomous vehicle and a vehicle that can drive autonomously.  I don’t think car manufacturers are thinking they’ll produce a car that will drive our kids to school each morning after we kiss them goodbye. But I know that a majority of OEMs are thinking about how a driver, if they choose, can turn control of the vehicle over to the on-board system. On autopilot, if you will.

In fact, we’ve heard many OEMs talk about their vision for this technology and even make promises that we’ll see it on the road by 2020. Seven years is not long in the automotive industry, so there’s a lot of engineering, standardization, and policy implementation that needs to be sorted out between now and then to bring this safer way to drive to market. But it will get here, and I predict it will get here even sooner than 2020.

When do you think autonomous cars will be on the market? Do you think this scenario is realistic or not? Why?

3 Responses to Bringing Safety to Autonomous Driving

  1. I think 2020 is a good estimate. The technology needed is already available but it’ll come down to who can put the pieces together first at a price consumers are willing to pay. It would require an upgrade to the software used in cars with a Bayesian network or adaptive AI learning tool, coupled with more powerful on-board computers and a cost effective LIDAR sensor. However, LIDAR that is capable of performing what is currently asked would put these cars way out of the average driver’s budget.

    I love the idea of adaptive cruise control. As someone who drives a total of 160 miles a day for work, I’d be willing to trade in my car for that kind of tech. It’ll take a lot of testing and reporting to get people to take the plunge, most likely. I think a hamster in a wheel charged with powering and steering a car may be a better driver than some of the people that share the road with me each day… you know, cause of phones.

    • Andrew – we share much in common, parts of a name (Andrew is my middle name, and sometimes my last gets spelled similar to yours), and also a practical point of view. I love the technology that is possible, although we both know that price will make all the difference in adoption. Sensor costs will come down, but only when volumes go up. Automotive will only put a small dent in the volume of sales for LIDAR and other sensors, but the overall IoT could make a change. I’m excited to see standards being pushed that will spread that potential volume across all sorts of industrial applications.

      As it turns out, the next generation “hamster in a wheel” steering the car (a central computer brain) could be the lowest cost component of the equation if it has enough power to eliminate the need for heavy bumpers and body reinforcements.

    • Sam Lamagna says:

      Thanks Andrew.

      I completely agree that affordable pricing is a key to adoption. It will take time for many to extract the value of saving lives, so the ramp must be gradual for the consumer. Everyone loves LIDAR, because it is so amazingly accurate, everything in autonomous has to be perfect, and accuracy is a big part of it. We are seeing really cool things happening such as silicon LIDAR, where there is no spinning parts and potentially high volume manufacturing could make it affordable. But what’s most important you mention is a decision making brain (computer) surrounded by fantastic software. We’d like to be a big part of those developments as we head to 2020

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