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It’s becoming clearer every day: autonomous cars will necessarily be connected cars.
Of course, it is within the industry’s reach to build a completely self-contained computer-controlled car equipped with the full bulk of processors, radar, sonar, cameras, lasers and batteries needed for an autonomous driver to gain detailed insights into its environment and navigate appropriately.
But building a vehicle equipped with this exhaustive list of cutting-edge technologies and leaving out wireless data connectivity is far-fetched to say the least. So long as designers don’t build a car that stops in the middle of the road when it loses signal (they wouldn’t), wirelessly connecting a self-driving car should render a deluge of advantages (it does).
Data connectivity benefits autonomous vehicles in the same way that it already benefits human drivers. Through a cellular signal, drivers (and autonomous vehicles) enjoy full access to the solutions we’ve been building for years: highly detailed area maps, traffic-aware routing, road hazard warnings and parking availability – with more capabilities on the horizon.
Those features are purpose-built to deliver a safer, more comfortable and more efficient experience in the car. They do so by rendering an accurate, real-time view of the world that exists beyond the reach of the senses of the driver – and beyond the range of radar, sonar, cameras and lasers.
Humans, as it turns out, are typically good drivers. Generally speaking, the more information we have, the better we can react and adjust to a changing environment. When our cars are connected, information can come in from the vehicles further down the road, well beyond our sensory perception, which enables us to make the best decisions if a reaction is needed.
If a vehicle around the corner detects a sudden issue causing bumper-to-bumper traffic, we might adjust our route to avoid that turn. If a car a mile ahead on the highway in low-visibility senses there is a lane closure, we can move into the better lane sooner. If several vehicles on a bridge report their traction control system has activated, we can be advised to take care when we cross that same bridge.
This connected information empowers us as drivers, but it’s also part and parcel to the transition of Highly Automated Driving and ultimately fully autonomous cars.
In the short term, the car’s In-Vehicle Infotainment system might alert us of a hazardous road condition. Soon, as our vehicles begin driving themselves in limited capacity, the In-Vehicle Infotainment system might alert us that we'll need to take control of the wheel soon. Further down the road, the same information will inform fully autonomous cars enough that the vehicle can take its own alternate action.
It’s a parallel path, that vehicles capable of driving themselves will also have highly capable sensor suites. To make the most of those sensors, they need the capability to report the conditions they encounter, which takes the processing work off of the vehicles that will follow. That connected, collaborative approach will power the future, and the autonomous world.
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