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The Fate of Autonomous

The Fate of Autonomous
by Roger C. Lanctot on 04-09-2017 at 7:00 am

 The latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise will debut bringing the concept of remote control of cars into the mainstream. Suffice it to say that remote control plays a major role in the script.

This will only be the latest chapter of a long-running effort to demonize autonomous vehicle technology in mass media – preceded just this week by an Uber self-driving car being upended by a human driven vehicle in Arizona leading to the temporary suspension of Uber’s testing program.

– “Uber Halts Self-Driving Car Tests After Arizona Crash”

“Fast and Furious” is all about humans driving cars, though the movies glamorize human driving for illicit purposes. So I guess the virtues of both human and machine driving are equally disparaged in the films.

About 10 years ago, a now-retired BMW executive told me that car makers arguably bear a responsibility to seize control of their vehicles remotely if 1) they have the technology capable of doing so and 2) the vehicle is being used with ill intent, the driver is incapacitated or the vehicle malfunctioning. The terror attack in London last week highlighted just such a scenario.

Khalid Masood deliberately drove his rented SUV into pedestrians on London Bridge before crashing the car and proceeding to attempt to enter Parliament before being killed by responding officers. The entire incident consumed 82 seconds and took five lives, according to press reports.

Khalid Masood’s rented SUV post-crash. SOURCE: BBC

There are a number of important implications here for safety systems and autonomous vehicle operation. Police officers in the UK and elsewhere in the world note that some of the latest safety systems such as collision avoidance actually prevent police officers from using so-called “pit” maneuvers to disable fleeing felons. Noting Masood’s path down the sidewalk on London Bridge, one can envision a future world where driving onto the sidewalk was rendered impossible by safety systems or autonomous driving technology.

Straying onto the sidewalk might also be prevented or corrected remotely in the future. From human-piloted rovers on the moon mankind has proceeded to remotely-piloted rovers on Mars. The same technology was demonstrated by Nissan at the CES show in Las Vegas in January and by Ericsson at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Described by Nissan as “teleoperation,” executives from Nissan’s Sunnyvale Tech Center demonstrated the company’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility platform – remotely operating a car using LTE wireless connectivity. The application demonstrated by Nissan was remotely taking control of a car that is experiencing an unexpected and perhaps dangerous event such as an incapacitated driver.

– Nissan Uses Rover Tech to Remotely Oversee Autonomous Car

The Nissan demonstration was compelling, but it highlighted the limitations of remote human operation of an autonomous vehicle. Taking control remotely can be as terrifying as re-taking control locally in the car. More often than not, events are occurring too rapidly for a human to respond – as in the case of the over-turned Uber vehicle in Arizona.

The point is that remote operation used in conjunction with autonomous driving technology and advanced safety systems can prevent crashes and criminal activity. Hyundai recently had the opportunity to show off its BlueLink immobilization application to prevent a vehicle theft in Atlanta.

– “Atlanta Police Make Quick Arrest Thanks to Technology in Grandmother’s Stolen Car”

Autonomous technology and remote control are introducing profound changes in how humans interact with their machines. Nowhere is this profound shift more pronounced than in the Tesla Motors’ Model S’s equipped with Autopilot 2.0.

Owners of the Model S that upgraded from Autopilot 1.0 to 2.0 saw significant changes in the operation of their vehicles – losing access to the function in certain areas (geo-fencing of the feature) and experiencing new speed restrictions. Over time, as the vehicles were able to take advantage of machine learning and further software upgrades some performance has been restored.

At the same time, though, Autopilot in the Model S now requires the operator to periodically put his or her hands on the steering wheel thanks to software updates. Failure to comply with this requirement results in temporary loss of access to the Autopilot mode.

In essence, humans have been teaching cars how to drive for the past 10 years and now cars are returning the favor. In the future, if you cannot obey the rules of the road or at least the rules for operating your particular motor vehicle you may lose the privilege of operating that car at least temporarily.

The horrific incident that occurred in London last week might well have been prevented either by appropriately tuned safety systems designed to prevent the car from leaving the roadway or from a vigilant remote monitoring system capable of taking control or immobilizing the errant vehicle. The “Fate of the Furious” may demonstrate the terroristic potential of massive remote vehicle operation, but the reality is that technology is ultimately mankind’s friend if developed and deployed appropriately.

With a little luck and some clever algorithms we humans will come to view the arrival of autonomous driving as the onset of a helping hand rather than robots gone wild. In the end we’re less concerned with criminal activity and terror and more interested in the ability of autonomy to make every day driving more pleasing.

Roger C. Lanctot is Director, Automotive Connected Mobility in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. More details about Strategy Analytics can be found here:


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