Connected Cars, Autonomous Vehicles Continue to Spark Interest

With the num­ber of con­nect­ed cars grow­ing rapid­ly — some esti­mate that1/2 the cars sold in 2015 will have Inter­net con­nec­tion, can Autonomous vehi­cles be far behind?

Autonomous vehi­cles may not be on your selec­tor list next year, or the year after that, and so on, but they are recent­ly gen­er­at­ing new projects, new reg­u­la­tions and plen­ty of news. Inter­est in con­nect­ed cars has been build­ing slow­ly over the years. Ini­tial appli­ca­tions includ­ed enter­tain­ment, nav­i­ga­tion, and traf­fic infor­ma­tion. The big pay­off for con­nect­ed cars has always been autonomous dri­ving — allow­ing a  dri­ver to climb in, open her news­pa­per or tablet, or even make phone calls, and be dri­ven safe­ly — and effi­cient­ly  — to her des­ti­na­tion thanks to the “Vehi­cle Traf­fic Con­trol Sys­tem.”

This has been the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion for 30 years or more, but recent­ly the idea is being pre­sent­ed as plau­si­ble, if still far out. Ann Arbor, Michi­gan, how­ev­er, has plans for a fleet of dri­ver­less con­nect­ed cars, by 2021, and the state touts itself as the leader in dri­ver­less, con­nect­ed cars. Back­ing this up, the state is launch­ing a new research pro­gram with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Trans­porta­tion Insti­tute. Late last year, Michi­gan joined Cal­i­for­nia, Neva­da and Flori­da as states that allow dri­ver­less vehi­cles on pub­lic roads. And the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is propos­ing a reg­u­la­tion for a stan­dard com­mu­ni­ca­tions between vehi­cles.

Sil­i­con Val­ley, of course, is hop­ing for a big stake in this tru­ly nascent mar­ket. Tes­la Motors founder Elon Musk recent­ly spoke of a sys­tem in the works for Tes­la that will func­tion “like an autopi­lot,” and take a good deal of the dri­ving work­load  from the dri­ver. Rumors have been swirling about Tes­la talks with Apple and, of course, Google has a head start because it has field­ed autonomous cars for map col­lec­tion for years. Top automak­ers have been work­ing on “com­po­nents” for an autonomous vehi­cle for years, and last month, Google formed the Open Auto­mo­bile Alliance with GM, Hon­da, Audi, and Hyundai. The group is com­mit­ted to bring Google’s Android plat­form to cars. Window’s Sync has been installed in more than 7 mil­lion Ford vehi­cles. Even Black­ber­ry has a foothold in the autonomous car mar­ket because a com­pa­ny sub­sidiary, QNX pro­vides con­nect­ed-car soft­ware to BMW and Audi and dis­played its con­nect­ed-car plat­form.

In this envi­ron­ment, some auto­mo­bile ana­lysts wor­ry that a large play­er such as Google or Apple will swoop in and take con­trol of the con­nect­ed car mar­ket — and dic­tate to automak­ers what to put in a vehi­cle. There’s no doubt that the con­nect­ed car — one that receives and trans­mits large amounts of infor­ma­tion to and from oth­er cars and the road­side is grow­ing rapid­ly. Con­sumer infor­ma­tion read­i­ly avail­able over the Inter­net is already avail­able in cars.

Sev­er­al indus­try ana­lysts pre­dict that the con­nect­ed car mar­ket will even­tu­al­ly dri­ve the autonomous vehi­cle move­ment, also cham­pi­oned by Google.

Jorg Brak­en­siek doesn’t think that Google will be call­ing the shots. Brak­en­siek is the tech­ni­cal work group chair of the Car Con­nec­tiv­i­ty Con­sor­tium (CCC), a group of more than a hun­dred sup­pli­ers as well as car­mak­ers. “Android is a con­sumer elec­tron­ic device,” said Brak­en­siek, “Com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what we (CCC) do. Cer­tain­ly, there are com­pli­men­ta­ry appli­ca­tions.”

Brak­en­siek said peo­ple still have to make the deci­sions — dri­ver­less cars ini­tial­ly will not be ful­ly autonomous. “Peo­ple have to make the judg­ment whether to hit the kid, or dri­ve into a car next to them. Will that deci­sion be made entire­ly by a car? I hope not,” he said.

—  Kevin Den­nehy

Kevin Den­nehy is Edi­tor of Wire­less LBS News. This arti­cle is adapt­ed from a report of the recent Mobile World Con­gress, held in Madrid.





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