How autonomous driving will change the way we consume data
This week I met ‘that guy.’ His name is Dave and he shared a story with me about his experience in renting a semi-autonomous car. Bottom line is that he did not like the car making decisions to slow-down or flashing alerts at him. In short order, he was yelling at the car—a new form of road rage. Yes, Dave is ‘that guy,’ the mainstream adopter who struggles to adjust to new capabilities, despite his enthusiasm for them.
Regardless, driverless vehicles are on the horizon. Autonomous driving features like assisted braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane correction are already standard on many car models. Fully autonomous vehicles are being field tested on public roads worldwide. It will not be long until we can take our hands off the wheel and indulge in online distractions. That’s because an even bigger shift is happening behind the scenes: the vehicle is becoming its own information hub.
That got me thinking about the parallels between the vehicle as an information hub and other information hub shifts over the past two decades. In the 1990s, consumer electronics and cable companies shifted the family’s information and entertainment hub from the home office to the living room with the introduction of the set top box. A decade later in the 2000s, a new set of consumer electronics companies helped the telecommunications industry transform the cell phone from a device that made calls to a personal mobile computer—giving us always-on, mobile access to the Internet.
In both instances, data—driven by new kinds of applications and services pouring into these new pipes—shifted user behavior. The same shift is happening to the vehicle. An explosion of data access inside the vehicle is changing the way we move from point A to point B across a diverse transportation ecosystem. But let’s check that logic.
Autonomous vehicles have historic parallels
It’s the 1990s. The stock market is booming, grunge rules the airwaves, and something called the Information Superhighway is changing the way we consume information. Against this backdrop, cable companies set out to own the living room, providing additional interactive features to standard cable services like streaming video, audio channels, and internet. The set top box became the hub of a new infotainment system where you could order pay-per-view movies and sporting events and surf the World Wide Web. Advertisers could finally get a glimpse of user likes, dislikes, and behaviors by the type of information they consumed.
In the 2000s, our attention shifted from the living room to our pockets or purses as cell phones became ubiquitous, and their increasingly-dense and powerful electronics put a data access platform in the palm of our hand. The move from 3G to 4G caused data consumption to explode, and suddenly a host of new applications began emerging tailored to users’ mobile behaviors. According to Statista, in 2017 Americans spent 60 percent more time consuming data via their mobile phones than their desktops/laptops.
Autonomous vehicles will enable the connected car to deliver a similar shift in the lives of consumers. The shift from 4G to 5G will dramatically increase vehicle connectivity. Combine that with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (aka V2X technology), and the car will be able to navigate itself as well as avoid collisions. So how does autonomous driving enable a new wave of information consumption? Let’s go back to ‘that guy,’ Dave. At some point he will relax and be more comfortable with his car’s autonomous features. He will take his hands off the steering wheel and let his car be his driver. The shift is coming. So how do you make this safe?
Test, measure, secure
There were adoption pains in both the 1990 and 2000 data consumption shifts. Electronics had to get smaller and lower power, making quality assurance probing more difficult. Applications needed to simulate wider ranges of usage scenarios, and a wider range of data flows had to be simulated. The same will be true for the vehicle. Despite those similarities, there is one big difference. While performance and availability mattered to consumers, it was rarely a life-or-death situation.
Waiting for your pay-per-view movie to spool or dealing with a dropped call is annoying, but a malfunctioning car is another thing altogether. A mere 300 millisecond delay in reaction time can result in an extra 20 feet of braking distance while traveling 50 miles per hour. Autonomous driving sensor performance must be the most reliable in history.
Just as the two big shifts that came before, testing systems behind the scenes makes every new innovation possible. Over-the-air testing ensures that wireless connections reach farther. Advanced waveform testing confirms that data rates can increase. Sensor testing across countless environmental conditions gives innovators the confidence they need to blaze new trails. Innovators also need to simulate the impact of application protocols on 5G cellular networks, user behaviors, communication latencies, and yes, malware and DDoS attacks.
We are on the third wave in as many decades, witnessing a shift in how and where data are consumed. Connected cars will open a new world of exciting opportunities, available to us because of autonomous driving. Behind the scenes, making this possible, are innovators who see new possibilities, new applications, and new ways to optimize electronics. They realize the stakes are high. They need to keep Dave safe.