I mentioned the Freightliner “Inspiration Truck” in my earlier post. Freightliner Trucks is headquartered in South Carolina and is the largest division of Daimler Trucks North America. But they are not alone in developing autonomous long-haul trucks. In Europe, a standard Mercedes-Benz Actos with their intelligent “Highway Pilot” system travelled about nine miles on the Bundesautobahn 8 motorway in southern Germany. Like the Freightliner autonomous truck, there was a human driver behind the wheel, but he did not touch the wheel or other controls.
Autonomous car development is moving forward at an ever-increasing pace. Right now, there are dozens of companies working hard on achieving a real driverless car. Here is a brief look at current trends at a few of them.
- Google is probably in the lead, with a goal to not build cars but to provide the software necessary for others to manufacture the production vehicles.
- QNX is a Canadian software company specializing in on-board systems to provide infotainment, movies, music, and control your car. Probably more than anyone else today, they understand the requirement that the software system cannot crash, because if it does, so does the car.
- Delphi is known as a one of the world’s largest parts suppliers, which realizes that car components, including smart car control and software solutions, must be cost effective. Delphi is working on ways to reduce the complexity, cost and weight of these systems.
- Cisco Systems in known for its network products, and is working with Continental Automotive on producing the security software and message routing hardware that are required to deliver connected autonomous car services.
- Continental Automotive is a large European parts supplier similar to Delphi in the US. It announced in 2013 that automated driving is the core of its long-term business strategy, and is working on connecting cars to provide better real-time traffic and navigation, entertainment features, and hazard warnings.
- Covisint is a Detroit-based company that is developing a secure communication and collaboration system to enable autonomous cars to communicate with traffic lights, emergency vehicles and other external factors.
- Codha Wireless designs hardware and software that will allow to vehicles to form ad hoc networks while on the road. Cars and trucks within those networks will be able to share critical information including their speed, direction, whether they are braking or accelerating. The result could be a a larger Cloud-based intelligence that will allow each vehicle to see danger around a corner and what is ahead of that big truck they are following.
- Autotalks is an Israeli company in the same space as Codha. It has produced the world’s first automotive-grade chipset ready for mass production. This technology analyzes the data transmitted by the on-board systems in nearby vernicles to, initially, warn drivers of any imminent danger and communicate with external transportation infrastructure such as traffic lights. Eventually this becomes part of the roadway control infrastructure.
- Mobileye is another Israeli company that provides inexpensive monitoring technology that uses a single camera to warn cars of dangers such as pedestrians, leaving your lane, or a forward collision, plus provides intelligent high-beam lights, recognizes traffic signs including speed limits, and adaptive cruise control.
- Nvidia is a California chip manufacturer that has specialized in game controllers. Their experience in crunching real-time images and spatial data makes their chips ideal in driverless car systems. One of their biggest aims is to make car systems upgradeable.
Most current cars and trucks contain computer systems were designed at least two years before the vehicle goes into production; driverless technology has moved on in that time. Today, an “upgrade” requires a trip to the dealer. This is unacceptable when a safety upgrade needs to be done “NOW!”
None of these companies actually build cars. Car manufacturers will take all of these technologies working together to get to the goal of safe driverless vehicles. I would bet it will all happen sooner than the experts expect.
The last word:
The future driverless vehicles are dependent on the cloud. As these companies have proven, we either have or are close to the connectivity we need. My biggest concern is security. So far, car control systems are extremely vulnerable to attack, as was recently proven on a Jeep.
I am looking forward to self-driving rental cars: no more getting off a long cramped airplane flight in a strange city trying to figure out how to get to you destination.
With the near-universal adoption of autonomous vehicles, bars will be happy. MADD should be happy and may be able to disband in a few decades.
Keep your sense of humor.