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Scott Brindamour

Is the future of the automotive industry here today?

Where is my flying car? The Jetsons promised me flying transportation. For the most part, cars have been the same over the past hundred thirty years. Yes, the features have changed, and they’re a lot safer, but you still have four wheels and steering. But all of that is set to change and a lot sooner than you might think.

2019 will see the start of commercially produced self-driving cars. And while they’re not flying just yet, this is one of the biggest changes to the automotive industry in years. Waymo and GM are both planning on beginning production of driverless cars in 2019 and Tesla is already offering a form of autopilot. Additionally, there are a lot of startups entering the market, hoping to get in this trend. The question is no longer if we’re going to have self-driving cars, but when.

All of this is possible because of machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of things (IoT) and a collection of other inventions that have to work together seamlessly. The same technology that is transforming today’s business models, is also transforming the automotive industry. The biggest difference with this application of the technology, however, is that it could have potentially fatal consequences. Using IoT and AI to optimize a manufacturers workflow is completely different than using the same technology to anticipate real-world interactions that happen to drivers in a millisecond.

Safety is always a big concern when you introduce a technology like this. Ideally, if the technology works correctly self-driving cars will be more reliable than human drivers. The Rand Corporation released a study that said self-driving cars will only prove to be reliable after 275 million miles without a fatality. There has already been one death caused by a self-driving Uber in March 2018. The autonomous vehicle will need to consume massive amounts of data in a split second, analyze that data and then act on it, the same way humans do, but with much greater precision and speed.

The self-driving car uses a few things to accomplish this:

SENSORS | The Eyes of the Car

  • Cameras: They’re used to spot lane lines, guard rails, obstructions on the road or even free parking spots.
  • Lidars and Radars: Lidars are located on the top of the car. It sends out light beams every second to measure how long it takes for the light to bounce back and builds a precise 3D map of the surroundings.

SOFTWARE AND ALGORITHMS | The Brains of the Car

  • Machine Learning: Once the car collects the data, machine learning helps analyze that data and act on it. It will also continually learn and evolve the rules and protocols it’s originally programed with, since it’s impossible to predict and program for every scenario.
  • Maps: Think of this as a GPS on steroids. It will need to be a lot smarter than your typical navigation system to accurately drive people to their desired location.
  • Connectivity: The car will need access to the latest traffic, weather, construction, and traffic to give the vehicle a better picture of its environment.

Any delay in any of these technologies could be fatal for the people in the car or for pedestrians. Car companies, tech companies and startups are all working together to make this seemingly futuristic concept a reality today. If this is done correctly, we could see a drastic decrease in car accidents and maybe even a zero-accident future.

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