The impact of self-driving technology, whether it be Uber-style driverless ride sharing vehicles, automated long-haul lorry driving or drone transport, will be felt across all transport sectors.
The next 20 years will see the steady uptake in driving automation. It will increase real-time communications in order to minimise travel time and cost. Legislators must grapple with standardisation, liability and security issues; while the industry is adding more and more driver-assistant services under the hood without significantly increasing the price point. But what about connectivity requirements, and will driverless cars actually reduce travel time?
Automation in the works
High-end cars today are more than semi-autonomous. Many hundreds of meters of wiring connect sensors to computers, that directly interface with the engine and steering systems. The development of car automation technology is a multi-billion-dollar race – a mix of competition and co-operation between the IT and automotive industries.
Major players on the IT side include Google with its Waymo driverless car technology, and Amazon, Microsoft and Apple with their navigation technologies. On the car manufacturing side GM, has acquired Getcruise to create a range of driverless cars, and Mercedes is developing its Car-to-X technology that lets the car exchange information with the surrounding infrastructure, like traffic lights, and other connected vehicles. Ford is partnering with Amazon to provide its driverless cars with Alexa, Amazon’s smart voice assistant technology, allowing drivers to voice communicate with the car systems.
Automated traffic infrastructures
In a fully automated road traffic scenario (something the airlines are pretty close to in the sky), the speed and course of driverless vehicles is optimised by a city-wide computing system. That requires fast and secure active-to-active WAN connectivity between cars and traffic management systems. The automated – and ultimately driverless cars, will need network connections capabilities to handle in-car IoT communication between sensors and computers, as well as external wireless 4G LTE and WiFi connectivity. The cars may also need satellite connectivity in rural environments.
Advanced navigation systems already have network connectivity to check weather and traffic conditions ahead. Intelligent mapping systems like HERE, supply information to control self-driving cars equipped with street-scanning sensors to measure traffic and road conditions. This location data can in turn be shared with other map users.
Ultimately, driving cars will be left entirely to computers – in cars without steering wheels. We will all be passengers or freight. Mobile connectivity must be maintained using dedicated roadside Wi-Fi networks as well as the existing mobile data services. The ability to switch, select and bond with constantly changing wireless base stations will be crucial for success. This is where SD-WAN routers from vendors like Peplink, that can handle multiple connections as a single virtual connection, are needed across a wide range of mobile environments.
With the driver gone, next to go may be the privately-owned car. The Singapore government estimates that replacing today’s 700.000 private vehicles with network connected, driverless vehicles would reduce the Singapore car pool to 300.000. It would simultaniously reduce transport times and the need for parking spaces. It would generally lower pollution levels and improve road safety.
Reduced travel time?
The Singapore scenario, and similar assessments of driverless traffic, vector in the advantages of much higher traffic density and the reduced need for parking spaces. With central management of in-city transport, users will buy transportation services – not vehicles. What these scenarios do not vector in, is traffic increases, if transport becomes as easy as using your smart phone. When every child, disabled, elderly or drunk person can order driverless transport, we risk a physical traffic volume explosion. Just look at the traffic increases the smart phone caused. So maybe queuing is not going away, just because we automate it.