If one really wants to know where technology sits, ask an engineer. Kudos for Connect X having an autonomous vehicle panel. After all, autonomous vehicles will be a critical component of the future wireless ecosystem.
The panel led off with Kevin Lacy, State Traffic Engineer North Carolina Department of Transportation. While this may intimate is has do with the state of North Carolina, the fact is that what is an issue here is an issue everywhere and the solution for one place is the solution for every other place (modified for environmental conditions, of course, but the core solution is the same).
Lacy did an excellent job of pointing out the current state of autonomous vehicles, what exists now, and what it will take to develop an autonomous vehicle infrastructure.
A couple of the platforms that get a lot of attention in this space is sensors and navigation technology. Both of which are in various states of advancements. According to Lacy, the following elements are what will make fully autonomous vehicles possible:
I write a lot about this topic, and much of the above is in various stages of existence and development. However, the last item, the connect AV infrastructure, specifically vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) and its next iteration, vehicle to everything (V2X) is what will put the vehicles in full autonomy. However, much of it is still on the drawing board. The following figure shows where we are presently (courtesy Kevin Lacy).
Still, there is talk that some vehicles are at level 5 (or at least very close), if one listens to those with an agenda. But Lacy’s chart shows that a bit differently. It shows we are now developing level 3 and some level 4. Fully autonomous vehicles, level 5, will not be here until after 2025 or later.
In this editor’s opinion, this is a much more credible scenario. I have said it before and I will say it again –without some sort of two-way smart road infrastructure, I believe fully driver driverless vehicles without driver-accessible control are, likely even further out than 2025.
OK, let us assume, by whatever plausibility theory one wants to assume, that we do develop the necessary V2X, and back, infrastructure. Technology has reached level 5. Now the ecosystem has to deal with the intangibles. Things like cost. Who will pay for both the technology and the ongoing costs of all of the components involved? Not only the vehicle with its complex technology, but building intelligence into the roads and the other objects. Then there is the central and edge management platforms.
And there is more, like the number of lines of code it will take to handle all of this (processing complexity) and the latency from the various elements. According to Lacy, autonomous vehicles may have 300, 400 million, maybe more, lines of code. At present this is a very complex and expensive platform and even as costs scale downward, putting all of this together will be a monumental undertaking.
Next, come legal and liability issues. We all know how long things can take in the judicial and regulatory systems. It will be years before the present lawsuits, and suits yet to be filed, are resolved. There is little in the wheelhouse about liability and responsibility so far.
On the regulatory side, the ecosystem is barely seeing the tip of the iceberg. Autonomous vehicles span all types of governmental agencies, from federal to local. And they vary from municipality to municipality. Need I say more?
Lastly, but not finally, just for this discussion, there is the human factor. We are not all going to wake up the day after full autonomy is reached and give up our vehicles. While there will be an evolutionary process here, some individuals, (like me) enjoy driving. There is something exhilarating about going from zero to sixty in three second. At this point, the last thing I want to do is turn my vehicle into an office, or spend all of my travel time ride sharing (I dig rock and roll music). Other issues include ownership models, transport, vehicle powering options, and the rate of adoption.
To be fair, things are moving at all levels of technology and regulation so all of these will, eventually, be resolved. But the challenges are many and complex. We have some ideas but are far from having our arms around all of the issues within this platform.
This session painted a very realistic picture of the state of, and the issues that face the evolving autonomous vehicle platform. It was good to see cooler heads stepping up.