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#GeotabAfrica A World Without Human Drivers: Submitting Vehicle Control to the Power of Telematics

Think for a moment about the amount of time you spend driving each week. Now think about all of the things you would rather be doing during those hours stuck in mind-numbing, bumper to bumper traffic. A possible solution to all this time wasted in the driver seat? Self-driving vehicles.

With the ever expanding integration of technology and telematics into vehicles, the self-driving vehicle may be closer than we anticipate. For the telematics industry, this development brings with it the potential for outstanding innovation.

Current Technology

The technology behind self-driving vehicles can be easily understood if you think about how you operate in the driver seat. Your eyes and ears register the objects around you and your brain uses that sensory information to determine what your feet and hands should do in response. Your cognitive memory predicts how the environment around you might change and this is used to prepare your muscles in case a quick muscular reaction is required.

In self-driving vehicle technology, we see the same human approach applied to the system design. A self-driving vehicle consists of a computer network that relies on sensory input and prediction-based algorithms in order to determine what is happening around the vehicle and what needs to be done in order to navigate and arrive at the programmed destination.

These types of systems function using the following technology:

  • GPS technology is used to obtain information about where the vehicle is located and what route is best to reach the destination
  • Integrated sensors capture details about the environment surrounding the vehicle
  • Computer software digests the sensory input information and classifies objects based on their shape, size and movement pattern
  • Another level of computer software determines what the vehicle will do next by using the object classifications to predict how the surrounding environment may change in the near future
  • A safe velocity and trajectory is then calculated taking into account the environment outside

Developmental Path and Future Plans

The change from current automotive standard to self-driving vehicles is happening through gradual intergradation. In fact, the advanced computer components that will be used to make self-driving vehicles are already being introduced into the commercial market. Newer vehicles are already offering additional features such as self-parking, assisted lane change, rear cameras and sensors, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Vehicles with these types of advanced features represent the change from traditional driving to assisted driving. Put all the components of assisted driving vehicles together and you no longer need a human driver.

Automotive companies such as Mercedes, BMW, Volvo and Tesla are already on track in the race to engineer the self-driving vehicle, with tech companies like Google and Apple also getting involved. Getting this technology on the road for commercial use will take some time as there are many roadblocks that will need to be overcome and many laws and legislations that will need to be redefined.

Potential Impact on the Telematics Industry

Eventually, drivers are going to be completely out of the picture and vehicles will be programmed to follow a defined driving pattern, with a very low margin for error. In fact, analysts even predict that driverless car performance and safety will surpass human capabilities so drastically that driver operated vehicles will become illegal.

The need for a strong networking backbone in driverless technology provides an opportunity for leaders of the telematics industry to contribute in a new way. The principles of driver behavior and monitoring of driving habits will become a more predictable coded system. Fundamental fleet interests will be incorporated such as asset tracking, fuel management and risk assessment. Human error would be mostly eliminated. As a result, the introduction of self-driving vehicles into the market will likely see telematics specialists clash with those who worry about handing over so much power and control. The first fatal crash involving self-driving vehicles will cause a backlash against the telematics industry. Hacking and cyber attacks are another real and dangerous threat to this industry. Recent research from Jonathan Petit from the University of College Cork and Steven Shladover from the University of California Berkeley shows that some of the worst case hacking scenarios of this kind would use fake GPS signals to affect an entire network of vehicles. The technology to do this is already available in the form of GPS scramblers. Scramblers can be purchased for as little as $20 US and can be used as a means of knocking a self-driving vehicle off its course.

Technology Will Inevitably Rule Vehicles

We may be a long way from computer networks taking over the role of driving vehicles, but it is a path that technology is leading us down and opening up a world of possibilities for the telematics industry.

If you’d like to learn more about the pros and cons of self-driving vehicle technology, be sure to check out Telematics and the Self-Driving Car: The Pros and Cons as well as Self-Driving Car Technology and the Convergence of Telematics Data Impacts Safety.

Credit: Jason Widla, Technical Services Engineer

How do you feel about humans becoming immersed in telematics and networking technologies? Let us know in the comments box below!