Autonomous Vehicles Offer New Opportunities but Security Hurdles Have to Be Addressed
you live in the Silicon Valley, you probably have seen Google’s autonomous vehicles map terrain and drive around your local highways or neighborhoods for mapping purposes. Although I now live in Europe where they seem less prevalent, I remember some years ago when I lived in Cupertino, around 2014, I would go to the Stevens Creek Blvd. Shopping center to the Starbucks there near the Lawrence Express and, if I recall correctly, 280 freeway and saw these Google Cars with a round ball or sensor on top. It always struck me as odd because they seemed so small and colorful yet were so proficient on the road.
The project, which started as a secret Google X Lab program to map terrain, is now on the verge of commercialization while being in the hands of Waymo, basically a name change since late 2016 as it become a stand-alone subsidiary of Alphabet, which is Google’s restructured parent company. The Waymo driverless car project is just one example of how far autonomous vehicles have come today. Now we have companies such as Apple (with its Project Titan), Lyft and Uber trying to capitalize on this emerging technology.
Commercial Implications of Autonomous Vehicles
The commercial implications of autonomous vehicles are huge. Besides ride sharing services, they can be useful in industries such as store deliveries , commercial truck driving and bus driving or any public transportation for that matter. The list goes on of ways these vehicles can make an impact when unleashed on the roads of the future. Imagine the cost savings involved with not having to hire a driver for different shifts or a trucker. Also, imagine not having to worry if your driver delivered a good on time because you can track a delivery in real time and not have to worry about the driver or any employee for that matter being on sick leave or taking a vacation. These are just some of the many possibilities that autonomous vehicles can deliver on.
Risk & Controversy with Self-Driving Cars
However, with potential also comes risk. Autonomous vehicles are not without controversies. a couple years ago, an experimental self-driving Uber vehicle struck a pedestrian in Arizona while she was walking on the street road resulting in her death. Despite the accident, it was one of a kind as Google, for instance, logging more than 7,000 miles with its autonomous vehicles and no crashes were reported.
The problem can arise when human fault or error gets in the way of algorithms. In the last case the woman stepped onto a road driven by vehicles and off a pedestrian sidewalk. I see machine learning and AI over the long term being very useful in helping overcoming such challenges. By being able to analyze its data and the data of other vehicles driving over a long period of time, it can adapt to daily driving conditions easier. Data analysis and machine learning algorithm advancements may be the difference maker needed for self-driving vehicles to be able to respond naturally to events and even to peoples’ own mistakes, like walking off a sidewalk and onto a street.
Security Issues May Arise
There are also the aspects of security to consider. If driverless vehicles get hacked or tampered with electronically, how much of an impact could this have on public safety? This is a problem with any emerging technology and various cybersecurity safeguards have to be up to the highest standards as well as authentications to make sure the right people are riding the designated autonomous vehicles with permission.
The University of Michigan actually conducted an experiment, according to CNN, showing that a decal put up at a stop sign could adversely affect an autonomous vehicle as well as the notion that an unscrupulous mechanic could in theory tamper with the system. Thus, these are all issues that need to be considered when implementing them on a large scale commercially.
When will they be unleashed on the roads commercially?
The time may be right around the corner for autonomous vehicles to start making a big splash in the commercial sense as companies like Uber and Lyft may be close to unleashing them. A New York Times report from last year suggests that both of these ride-sharing companies want autonomous vehicles on the roads in order to provide a 24-hour service on demand. Even when human drivers are sleeping or there may be low demand for them and they take the day off, these vehicles would be available to pick up riders at all times.
The report also goes on to mention Google’s Waymo and how it is actually currently in a testing phase of actually taking Phoenix customers on trips in a service of sorts.
However, even Google’s Waymo has a while to go as “almost 40 percent of Waymo’s customers registered complaints in reviews seen by the publication, from wrong turns to near-crashes.” The service is already charging money, but some customers urge Google to wait with the service as it currently works and for all of the kinks to be ironed out first.
It will be interesting to see how disruptive these vehicles and the technology will be in the future. I previously mentioned some examples I see the technology making its presence felt and disrupting industries like deliveries, truck driving and ride sharing. However, other industries can also be disrupted especially in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) where smart homes and drones are becoming ubiquitous.
Apple and Google are already making a dent in these industries so why not personal vehicles as well? When companies like Apple are looking into implementing such technology, we should ask ourselves what their ultimate goals will be? Could Apple become the next Tesla of personal vehicles and eventually every other home in the U.S. Would at least consider owning one with Apple’s or Google’s logos present? I do not think that is out of the question.
Software development is also paving a way for the industry to move forward in automation and consumer ease-of-use. Various services and applications and working together in the back-end to allow for smooth access to various apps that consumers are using in the front-end. Consumers are using systems or application hubs like Apple CarPlay inside their vehicles to have a smooth and enjoyable ride.
Many vehicles today use technology in assisted fashion. For instance, I have seen cars that allow drivers to park easier with an assist of sorts. One day you may be able to swap or trade in your current vehicles for driverless ones or ones that have options of a full assistive drive. I can imagine commercial vehicles offering full control of a vehicle to the driver, assisted drive and full automation being a possibility one day.
For now, you can rest assured that the current roads will be mostly packed with human drivers and all the perils that comes along with that (congestion or traffic jams comes to mind personally). One day, however this may change and it is through these ride sharing companies that it may start until many other industries are impacted in a large way.