The State of California has a reputation for being early and often when it comes to legislating, well, pretty much everything. So it comes as no surprise that the state has laws on the books impacting autonomous vehicles. In 2012, State Senator Alex Padilla of California introduced SB-1298, which was passed into California Law on September 25, 2012. The law took effect on September 16 of this year; on the same day Audi USA issued a press release announcing they had received the first permit under the new law to operate autonomous vehicles on public roads.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes USA announced two days later, on September 18, they had also received permission. On the same day, but over in Stuttgart, Daimler AG (Mercedes' parent company) hosted a Symposium entitled "Connected driving and Data Protection" that, among other things, intended to further public debate on how autonomous vehicles fit into society. Describing the keynote address by Dr. Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt (member of the Daimler AG Board of Management), Daimler said, "The new technologies relieve driver workload and increase road traffic safety, but also raise new legal questions concerning the rights over data and liability."
In related news, Bloomberg reported on October 1 that a German regulator had ordered Google to limit combining data in ways that reveal personal information, such as relationships or patterns of visiting certain locations. It isn't much of a leap to see that connecting your car to the cloud could generate big data about your daily routine. Ironically, also on October 1, Daimler announced they would begin testing autonomous vehicles in a secure test site at the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) in California, which Daimler noted "is not accessible to the public." The test site, which is no longer actively used by the US Navy, is operated in a partnership with the City of Concord, Calif., in hopes of attracting tech investment and revenues.
I've written previously on the not-too-distant emergence of autonomous cars in widespread use, as well as the high revenues at stake. The range of issues to be solved is daunting, and adding privacy to the heap isn't likely to be a deciding factor. It did get me to think about the big picture in which autonomous vehicles are a part, but even sooner, we'll see a transition from driver assistance to connected cars. Even using "connected" as the descriptive word is a large umbrella. The possibilities range from in-car hotspots (see the response, from OnStar [Figure 1] to Ford's SYNC), to vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications, to drive-by-wire, to fully autonomous cars.
Talking to some of my colleagues in the automotive industry, GM/OnStar may be on the right track. Since as early as 1997, when GM announced OnStar, the "hole in the roof" has been the prime real-estate for wireless connectivity to passenger vehicles. While the black blob was a styling challenge to some OEMs, today the shark fin or other variants are nearly ubiquitous.
Figure 2 The 2015 Chevrolet Camaro sports what is now a barely noticeable shark fin antenna module on the roof. These modules contain everything from FM to SiriusXM, plus cellular and GPS.
(Image: GM Creative Commons License)
For V2V applications, the hole in the roof is likely to be the location of the intra-vehicle connectivity solution. Why? While cars have radar, lidar, cameras, and other sensors in places like bumpers or mirrors, to form a large mesh network of cars on the road, the wireless solution needs to be in a location to provide high-reliability links. The roof gets the system line-of-sight to nearby vehicles in most situations, while other locations would be compromised in one or more directions.
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