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.