It’s not a fiction, it’s about to turn into reality

It’s not a fiction, it’s about to turn into reality
by Pawan Fangaria on 08-01-2014 at 2:00 am

Often I used to wonder why a search engine company would invest so heavily and indulge into stuff like smartphones, home automation devices, servers and many other exotic, innovative things they are doing internally and externally. But when I connect the dots, I find that this company in on certain massive missions which, if accomplished on full scale, can completely alter the way we do things in various spheres of life across the world. Internet-of-things will become a misnomer; it will become internet-of-one-thing, or the other thing, into the cosmos of many things or everything. There are certain things owned by this company which will seamlessly seep in through most of the devices across the world. Is this company going to own the world? Of course governments will have much greater say for their countries; however, versatile and omnipresent services provided by this company will have the governments listen to what the company says. You must have guessed it right about which company I am talking 🙂

I have many things to say about Google, which acquired and then sold MotorolaMobility (obviously, the most important aspect of those deals was to acquire the huge quantity of Android patents and retain them), acquired Nest Labs(a home automation company), Waze(a community based traffic and navigation apps provider) and is about to acquire Twitch(a video game streaming company), and of course notable past acquisitions include Android, YouTube, Applied Semantics(maker of AdSense), Postini(an email security and service provider) andDoubleClick(display ad technology) among others. For now, I will restrict myself to the much talked about ‘driverless cars’, what it can bring to the society and how it connects into the larger scheme of Google to connect and control the world.

Before getting into the technology details, let me talk about how ‘driverless cars’ can change the transportation scenario, associated infrastructure and other feel good factors for the societies across the world.

These cars can become ubiquitous, at your fingertips to pick-or-drop you from/to your office, home, discotheque or anyplace you are in. People will not need to own cars, unless some have obsession about owning a car. The net advantage is less number of cars releasing most of the parking space occupied by stationary cars. Since a driver or your spouse doesn’t need to drive all the way to pick/drop you, there will be less traffic on the roads and that can eliminate all detours, the result is reduction in the miles driven, saving of fuel, less pollution. A significant reduction in opportunity cost will be in terms of less person hours spent on roads.

Because of no human involved in driving, it will be a perfect disciplined car movement without any personal biases and that can lead to almost accurate time to distance. This will make the best use of roads with best co-ordination with other cars and vehicles providing best safety and less road fatalities. Your percentage of time spent in daily routine travel can significantly reduce and become joyful or peaceful as you like.

All space in the car is yours, all passengers, no driver and therefore no reserved seat and steering system for the driver. People can interact face-to-face and enjoy car infotainment system. It’s one for all, children, young, adult, old whether they can drive or not. The car makers can use this advantage in most creative ways to engage their passengers.

It’s obvious, it can reduce the burden on traffic police personnel; they can focus more on planning of roads, estimating population and average number of cars and other vehicles in particular areas and so on.

Doesn’t it look like a dream? But it’s doable. Of course, there are risks involved, one major risk is about security, imagine a terrorist cracking the central control system and breaking the whole system of cars across the city. Other issues can be on commercial side – private car sales will drop drastically, existing drivers will have to find other jobs and so on. And many other issues will crop up. However, my guess is that solutions to these can be worked out after a pilot commercial run can be successful in a city. Now, let’s talk about the technologies that are making it possible, Google is magnificent in that aspect with its open innovation lab and continuously promoting great innovations.

You see the device on top of the car? It’s called lidar (light detection and ranging system) which performs the most important operation, sensing about the car’s surroundings and movements. It has laser powered sensors which throw laser beam at an object and measure its return time to calculate the distance. The 3D data about the surroundings of the car can be fed to a computer inside the car. The resolution can be so high that it can detect small objects and differentiate between an animal, a solid or a paper material. Along with lidars, there are other sensors, radars and cameras. The lidars can work for long range at highways in all weather conditions. The cameras are used to read traffic signals of different colors and road signs. There are several companies in lidar manufacturing business. The one which built a 64-laser unit lidar for Google’s prototype car is Velodyne Lidar Inc. Definitely cost of lidar is very high and has to go down significantly for that dream to come true. The number of laser units can be reduced as per need which can significantly reduce the cost. Several companies along with car makers are working on the cost aspect, that’s a positive sign 🙂

Let’s look at the other aspects of technology. Do you see the dots connecting somewhere with what Waze has in store along with GPS system enabled by Google maps? And Twitch for gaming inside the car?

Anyway, I would like to talk about the one; I am there wherever you go – Android. After Android in phone, tablet, notebook, wearable and even TV, it’s in your car now. That’s Google’s quest to make it universal and thus control the world, for good reason, of course. The Android Auto has all car-centric features which today need an Android smartphone connected to the car system, but I am sure Google can make the car system independent of phone going forward. Movies, shows, games, maps, Google Now, automatic voice message read outs etc. can be played on a big screen inside the car. What is more important is the connectivity among cars and with other vehicles. Will that unfold into a specialized internet-of-cars or internet-of-autos connected to rest of the world through other threads? More later after we ponder over these and throw more ideas, questions, opinions, issues involved… A technology always comes with opportunities as well as challenges!

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