Why Autonomous Vehicle Fears Are Science Fiction, Not Science Fact: Part 2

David RodriguezApril 26, 2017

Why Autonomous Vehicle Fears Are Science Fiction, Not Science Fact: Part 2

by David Rodriguez, CMO of GreenRoad

In the first part of this series, we set up an unlikely scenario in which your autonomous vehicle would be forced to make the decision between driving you off a cliff or running another passenger vehicle off the ledge. In reality, autonomous vehicles will likely never end up having to make such a frightening decision due to their programmed safety and prediction abilities.

Let’s set up a new scenario, but this time let’s make it a bit more realistic with the addition of human error and even higher stakes. Imagine you’re in an autonomous vehicle on a three-lane highway. In the lane to your left is another autonomous vehicle, while in the lane to your right, a non-autonomous vehicle comes speeding up with a drunk driver behind the wheel. The man-powered vehicle on your right swerves into your lane. Will your autonomous vehicle guide you into the vehicle to your left or allow you to be hit by the swerving car on your right?

Autonomous vehicle makers hope that the answer will be neither. Their vision is that the two autonomous vehicles would instantaneously communicate with one another to react in unison, perhaps with the car on the left smoothly braking while your car merges into their lane, ensuring no one collides. It sounds like an extremely futuristic scene from a movie, but the technology to make this possible not only exists, it’s already being built into the newest vehicle models.

What is car-to-car technology?

This technology, known as both car-to-car and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, allows vehicles within a certain range to transmit data to each other regarding their rate of speed, location, and even brake and steering wheel positions. This allows autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles to know what’s going on around them at all times and make driving decisions based off of this data, gathered by short-range radios.

You have likely already experienced firsthand vehicle sensor systems that alert you to cars or objects approaching you from behind. These sensors currently have many bugs, including oversensitivity to oncoming objects and a lack of ability to deal with unexpected situations. But they are the foundation of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which manufacturers are working hard to perfect.

Mercedes, Toyota, and Volvo have already released vehicles with car-to-car communication installed, and numerous other brands like Google, Apple, Uber, and Lyft have plans in the works to do so in the near future. The current level of technology in each varies, but some include features that allow cars to “talk” with emergency vehicles and traffic light signals in addition to other passenger vehicles, and sense weather and road hazards.

This technology is not only exciting for consumers, but also for governments who currently expend huge amounts of money and manpower each year dealing with insurance administration, emergency service, property and road repair, court time and fees, and the consequences of road accidents. It’s hard to calculate the total cost of all of these factors, but the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) estimated that they spent a hefty $242 billion in accident-related costs in 2010, while the UK Department for Transport estimated a total of £34 billion spent in 2013.

The prospect of these savings is so dramatic that, in December 2016, USDOT proposed a law that all new light-commercial vehicles released must have vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology in place. Because this technology relies on radio waves, it can transmit data farther than traditional radar and camera technologies and provide a signal that’s uninterrupted by other vehicles. USDOT estimates this technology could reduce or completely eliminate up to 80 percent of non-impaired (non-alcohol, non-drug-related) accidents.

Place your trust in fact, not fiction.

The need for control is deeply rooted in human nature, which is why giving up total control behind the wheel seems so terrifying on the surface.

In reality, we’re already relying on technology to help us get closer to reaching driving perfection. GreenRoad has supported drivers in making better decisions for over 10 years now, laying the building blocks and collecting the data needed to take the next logical step toward safer roads: autonomous vehicles. Soon, years of professional driving experience will no longer be necessary, as autonomous vehicle makers can leverage the data and algorithms we’ve developed to help their vehicles drive as safely as a professional driver would.

Think about stepping into an autonomous vehicle not as giving up control, but allowing data-driven technology to support the driving decisions you would likely make yourself if you had the right training — and superhuman sensory abilities.