In the past couple of years, tech conferences and headlines have been filled with talk about autonomous cars. It seems that the advent of this technology is almost inevitable and that it will be the next big disruption to the global traffic system. Change in every part of this industry will happen if the technology truly develops — from the transportation of goods and provision of services to urban public commute.
Apart from autonomous cars, the other buzzword in futuristic tech seems to be artificial intelligence, whose dawn is all but upon us. But can these two technologies be complementary, and used with each other? We will explore the possibilities right here!
SELF-DRIVING CARS 101
There is no better indicator of a tech’s promise than heavy capitalization. And sure enough, Tesla, Waymo, and similar companies have invested a lot of funds into autonomous car technology. Waymo has had an on and off relationship with the technology; they’d started testing once more after ceasing related activities three years ago. For now, there are still drivers in the cars over the course of the tests, and Waymo is still working on gathering enough metric data to complete its goal — a fully auto-driving solution.
Before delving further into the intricacies of this technology, let's see what a self-driving car actually means. There are a couple of indicators that are considered crucial for baseline car automation at different levels of sophistication:
- Driver assistance — the starting level of self-driving technology. Here, the autonomous driving system is only there to provide assistance to the driver, but it doesn’t solely control the vehicle. Such tech already exists today in the car market today — parking sensors are a good example of that.
- Partial self-sufficiency — here, the driving system does have control of the vehicle, but only partially. The full responsibility for the vehicle’s maneuvering and operation still sits with the driver.
- High levels of automation — the car system can control steering and the ignition in certain situations for prolonged time periods; for instance, while driving in an empty road or on a highway
- Full self-sufficiency — the system has full control of the vehicle at all times and can complete a car journey without a human individual interfering with the process. That being said, there still has to be a human in the vehicle.
- Complete vehicle automation — the vehicle is capable of fully navigating traffic from point A to point B, without causing damage to itself or harm to others. A human need not be present in the car at all.
As you can see, automation means different things at different levels of self-sufficiency. The first stage of automation has already reached commercial use, while the others are still being worked on. Some of them haven’t even entered the testing stages as of now.
But once we begin examining the higher levels of automation, one thing is clear — artificial intelligence would have a big role to play in this kind of driving automation. Some kind of AI tech would have to be developed and implemented in order to completely remove human drivers from the equation.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN AUTOMATION
Most obviously, the existence of fully driverless vehicles would change the public commute and transport systems of the world overnight. But even with society's acceptance and the correct regulatory frameworks, automated cars would also present a paradigm shift for other sectors and industries as well.
We haven’t managed to discuss autonomous vehicles at the most superficial level without talking about artificial intelligence, illustrating the connection between these two technologies. There isn’t a large change of cars learning to go through complex traffic situations without having at least some AI capabilities. A combination of Internet of Things sensors that have access to a wide array of data and AI software will probably be how we finally achieve safe driver-less traffic.
As we’ve shown in the different stages of autonomous vehicles, it will be a while before cars can fully drive themselves. For a long time period, we expect the AI to act more as a co-pilot. In that time, the software will have to show its capabilities and demonstrate itself as a valuable asset to consumers, manufacturers, and most importantly — industry regulators.
The combo of advanced sensors with huge data feeds and AI tech will probably be quite useful in situations during which human errors often occur. One of the issues with this idea is that the CPU requirements for such technology in a car would be stupendously high. Plus, the AI will take a long time to learn everything it needs to safely correct a driver’s actions.
INDIVIDUAL CLOUD SERVICES
The areas in which AI will successfully augment the car industry aren’t just related to driving itself. Artificial intelligence will be of huge help when it comes to maintenance and checking the condition of any vehicle. Car diagnostics will be made much more precise, and so will prescriptive and predictive maintenance.
An AI is able to take more factors into account than any human, and provide features such as the most suitable warranty plan for your car; something that fulfills the specific needs of the individual while remaining in their price range.
INFORMATION FOR INSURANCE FIRMS AND REGULATORS
Automation in the car industry also means further digitization and more accurate sensors. And in turn, that means more data generated during traffic. This can be of great aid for the resolution of traffic violations as well as insurance claims. In the latter industry, AI in cars would help with a lot of things.
For instance, AI could more accurately assess the risks pertaining to a particular driver. That way, insurance expenses could be dynamically adjusted to suit the specific profile of the individual. Plus, it could help people find the best car deals for them based on their financial and personal profiles.
Also, claims could be processed more easily if AI was constantly gathering data — the same would be true during an accident. Even now, there are similar software solutions in the works. A Chinese developer has a functional version of a smartphone app that can already provide a basic damage assessment for a vehicle just by using the camera of the phone.
The ways in which artificial intelligence could be used in self-driving cars are far from limited to safety regulations. The AI technology could have its uses in all kinds of functionalities that we have in our vehicles. For instance, they could be utilized to control entertainment systems — much akin to household devices like Alexa or Google Home.
The advancements within autonomous vehicles and accompanying AI developments seem to provide a great outlook for public transit. This is why the public sector has also begun looking into this technology; trying to assist the tech companies with bringing AI-powered car solutions to the market. Governments worldwide are trying to find investors for commercial research projects in this sector.
These changes definitely mean one thing — artificial intelligence is well into development, though perhaps not in the sci-fi form we’re used to seeing in pop culture. Even if it doesn’t rule every segment of our daily lives, it’s becoming incredibly likely that it will help us drive our cars, or even drive them for us.