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Reflections on Autonomy & Anonymity (of Cars & People)

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.

Figure 1  OnStar is offering 4G LTE with built-in WiFi on 2015 General Motors (GM) models. (Image: GM Creative Commons License)

Figure 1  OnStar is offering 4G LTE with built-in WiFi on 2015 General Motors (GM) models.
(Image: GM Creative Commons License)

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)

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.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EDN.

9 comments on “Reflections on Autonomy & Anonymity (of Cars & People)

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 25, 2014

    As more and more machines get connected and take decisions among themselves using collaboration, The humans will get more and more disconnected from each other.

    In an autonomous car , the driver does not have to even look at the rear view mirror to see who is following him, or those races between the cars ( many times just for fun to reduce the boredom of the highway driving) will become the the thing of the past.

     

     

  2. eafpres
    October 25, 2014

    @prabhakar:  Thanks for your comments.  I think that a lot of the technology is being advanced under either the “Safety” banner or the “Convenience/Entertinment” banner.  I expect people will adopt these technologies very rapidly, so the car makers are racing to add features that will sell new cars.

    Meanwhile, governments worry about security threats, and justify monitoring everyone.  If your car not only knows where it is, but knows where you are going and connects your daily routine to the internet, then that makes watching you a lot easier.  Here in the US cars continue to be a very powerful symbol of freedom; I wonder if these technology trends will change that.

  3. ahdand
    October 27, 2014

    @blaine: Well some of these are being adapted already. I think it's a matter of time. 

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 27, 2014

    @prabhakar_deosthali

    “As more and more machines get connected and take decisions among themselves using collaboration, The humans will get more and more disconnected from each other.”

    If machines get connected and can take better decisions to mitigate human beings errors, why not? Who doesn't like to have a safe ride? 

  5. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 27, 2014

    @Blaine,

    “Here in the US cars continue to be a very powerful symbol of freedom; I wonder if these technology trends will change that.”

    It is certain that these technology trends will likely raise many concerns and issues. But I don't think they will prevent people from owing cars and enjoy driving them without fearing being monitored. 

  6. Himanshugupta
    October 29, 2014

    I guess history is a good mirror to see what can happen in future. For me, if machine to machine communication and intelligence reach to a level that humans do not need to interfere then we will have time to focus on more important things than wasting time on daily routine work such as driving to office and back home.

  7. Himanshugupta
    October 29, 2014

    I am amazed, if not surprized, at the pace at which technology is going to change how we commute. I think that this is a welcome step. Motor cars have been mass produced over a century but the basic features and technology has remain the same. I think that V2V communication and infotainment will be radical shift in the automotive.

  8. eafpres
    October 30, 2014

    Hi Hospice–I'm sure you are correct; there will be some who avoid new cars for fear of the technology, but out of say 13 million cars sold in US this would possibly affect a few thousands of sales.

  9. eafpres
    October 30, 2014

    Hi Himanshugupta:

    Consider this goes another way.  We have large fleets of autonomous vehicles.  User puts their destination into an app, and says when they want to leave.  A large scheduling optimization software directs a vehicle, which has an open seat and can accomodate the requested route & timing, as well as satisfy the desired route & timing of those already in the vehicle.  Suppose these things are like van-pools with no drivers, but purely on-demand.  Further suppose that the optimization is good enough and the fleet large enough that most requests are met, the vehicle time to pick up is < 5 minutes, and destination time is within 10 minutes of desired.

    Now think of the savigs in fuel, road maintenance, accident avoidance, etc.

    So perhaps the real niche for autonomous cars isn't personal cars, but public transport.

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