Although I am not sure what it will eventually be like, but going by the plethora of connected and self-driving car announcements in the first fortnight of the year, a future where you sit back and enjoy your breakfast while reading the morning's newspapers, in the driver's seat of a car are not too far away. Aka, the future is here.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, earlier this year, Kia announced plans to build driverless cars by 2021, saying: 'Kia plans to commercialise Level 4 autonomous driving technology, with ‘Smart City’ autonomous vehicle testing due to commence in 2021'. Not only this, the car manufacturer also outlined plans of testing its technology from next year.
Not to be outdone in the vehicle innovation and evolution game, Ford has announced the launch of an online service that would allow fleets of cars to communicate directly with public transport networks, cyclists, and infrastructure such as traffic lights and car parks to manage traffic, with companies and government bodies connecting to a shared control centre.
So, more connected and driverless cars... but, what exactly is a connected car? Is it one that can connect to your smartphone so you can take calls while driving and play music over Bluetooth? According to the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Connected Vehicles (also known as Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) refer to vehicles with increasing levels of connectivity which allows them to communicate with their surrounding environment (including the infrastructure and other vehicles). This could provide information to the driver about road, traffic, and weather conditions, and on routing options and enable a wide range of connectivity services. Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) (also known as automated, self-driving or driverless vehicles), on the other hand, are vehicles with increasing levels of automation that will use information from on-board sensors and systems so they can understand their global position and local environment and enable them to operate with little or no human input for some, or all, of the journey.
With so much development already in the pipeline, could security of these very complex systems be far behind? So, it was also at CES that BlackBerry and NVIDIA announced that BlackBerry QNX’s safety-certified operating system was going to be used as the foundation for NVIDIA’s functionally safe AI self-driving development platform. Not just with NVIDIA, BlackBerry also announced their partnership with Baidu, whereby QNX will be the OS to power Baidu’s open Apollo platform for building autonomous and connected vehicles.
For those who still think BlackBerry is a mobile company, it is actually one of the most successful businesses in the in-car infotainment industry with its QNX platform. BlackBerry's QNX is an embedded software platform on the autonomous vehicle market, designed to provide tools and state-of-the-art cyber security technology to protect and mitigate, hardware, software, applications and end-to-end systems over their lifetime from cyber attacks.
'Safety is the most important feature of a self-driving car,' said Jensen Huang, founder and chief executive officer of NVIDIA. “It is imperative that it operates safely, even when things go wrong.' While the ramifications of a car/van that drives itself are hard to come to terms with, especially when in 2016, a Tesla owner was killed when his car failed to spot a lorry crossing its path. However, driver and accident stats do not imbue confidence either. Mobility consultant Sven Beiker, a former head of Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research told the BBC, 'More than 90% of the accidents that you see today are caused, one way or another, by human error. On a global basis, that's about 1.2 million people who die in traffic accidents. That's motivation enough [to go driverless]."
READ MORE: Driverless cars are a go! Govt. green lights project to hit the roads by 2021 despite security fears
However, consumer attitudes towards connected and driverless cars need to change before it is 'all change'. Research conducted by OpenText, an enterprise information management company, of 2,000 UK consumers on their attitudes towards driverless cars found that:
- UK consumers see ‘improved road safety’ as the biggest benefit to autonomous driving. More than two in five UK consumers (42%) agreed that driverless/autonomous vehicles will make roads safer
- Over a quarter (27%) of UK consumers think that the ability of driverless/autonomous vehicles to obey all traffic rules will improve road safety, whereas one in ten (10%) think this technology will make roads safer, but only on UK motorways
However, the safety vs crash comparison between connected & driverless cars vs manned cars isn't completely black and white either. Jeremy Swinfen-Green, cyber security expert and author of Cyber Security: an introduction for non-technical managers says: 'There are some major benefits to autonomous vehicles; but it isn’t simple.
- There are issues around insurance: in the event of an accident in what circumstances is the owner, the manufacturer or the software company liable?
- There are issues of safety: will the software always be capable of responding appropriately to an unforeseen circumstance or will it perhaps suddenly demand a decision from a sleeping human, or simply shut down?
- And there are of course the ethical issues that have been much discussed: should the car act to protect the driver rather than the schoolchild crossing the road on their scooter; should the car choose the six old people to kill rather than the mother and baby?
None of these issues are going to be easy to solve.'
An enhanced 'cruise control' type system already exists on newer car models from manufacturers like Volvo and Mercedes, but innovation is still not at that juncture where it is safe for a driver to not be in control of a car. The UK government is trying to accelerate research and development in the field but it will take some time. In fact Audi's new A8 enables completely hands-off driving in certain very specific circumstances, but they are not for those looking to 'hand off' the driving to the car. As Mark Bridger, vice president of sales, Northern Europe, OpenText signs off:
'We are on the cusp of self-driving cars becoming a reality and, in the next couple of years, the automotive industry will be transformed beyond recognition. Car companies, therefore, need to ensure they are not only delivering the most innovative connected technology, but that this technology is also safe and reliable in order to install the level of trust needed for mass adoption. AI will enable automakers to analyse, adapt, and suggest solutions based on data, bringing the world of driverless cars closer to reality.”