The Evolution of the Autonomous Vehicle

POSTED BY Sam Barker
Cars are now becoming more than a form of transport, but items of technological convenience that users are familiar with at home or at work.

They need to include all the technology to make them intuitive, entertaining, informative and safe. This means that cars have to interact with a wider transport infrastructure around them, other vehicles and road users, as well as value-added services around them. This requires not just co-ordination between technologies, but also legislature, insurance, media and information services.

In the last few years, there has been a massive shift from separate industries, such as Automotive, Mobile Networks, and Internet Technology, to a more interrelated and interconnected ecosystem. OEMs suddenly had to increase their operations in the areas of connectivity solutions within vehicles, mobile network providers had to branch out into providing technology solutions beyond simple data transmission, and technology companies had to step up with specific automotive solutions.

The majority of leading technology service providers have made efforts to join the connected and autonomous car evolution. However, business models and paths to monetisation are often unclear. Indeed, many leading companies have a dedicated automotive solutions section on their websites. Yet, the actual progress and offerings at the present moment differ considerably. Although all mention automotive as a target market for their products, some of them are more generic and apply to much wider connectivity, data processing and IoT environments.

Even without working solutions, technology providers, who hope to retain or secure a proportion of the automotive market, have created partnerships with other companies and academic institutions, and joined various industry groups and alliances, in order to help shape automotive future.

As with each new invention, until it is established and fully operational, there is some confusion over the usage of terminology. ‘Automated car,’ ‘autonomous car,’ ‘self-driving vehicle,’ ‘robo-car,’ ‘driverless car’ - all these terms have been floated in relation to this emerging concept. Self-driving vehicles have been in development for a few years. One of the first and most successful self-drive car projects was started by Google in 2009 and became Waymo in 2016. Since then, a variety of technology companies, as well as automakers themselves, have invested into similar projects.

 However, there are many challenges that need to be overcome, in order to allow such devices to function safely in the current transport system and be ready for mass use on the roads, including inadequate structure, the need for low latency, hackability, proof of concept and more. Indeed, it seems that a certain amount of risk is always going to be present in the operation of any technology. The aim is to minimise it as much as possible, but it may be unrealistic to hope to eliminate it fully.

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