Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to make Los Angeles a center for connected car technology and innovation.
If you can’t live without your smartphone, you definitely won’t be able to live without a “smartphone on wheels.” That’s how visionaries at the Connected Car Expo (CCE) in Los Angeles in November described the automated, connected cars they predict will be hitting American roads in the coming years. Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the expo by pledging to make Los Angeles a hub for connected cars and new vehicle technology, indicating that the city’s doors are open to entrepreneurs. According to the entrepreneurs who presented, including representatives of Lyft, Volkswagen, Google, the Los Angeles Taxi Commission and startups like HopSkipDrive, the future of personal automobiles and transportation lies in autonomous vehicles, ensuring safety, neutralizing cybersecurity concerns and ride sharing.
The future will be about rethinking how we view driving and vehicles, and the amount of time we spend on activities related to them. Autonomous cars – completely driverless vehicles – have the potential to reshape how we get around, expo speakers said. Safety and determining liability in the case of an accident are the biggest concerns, however, and must be addressed before people will trust them.
Innovative safety features are already being developed. Autonomous cars could have 360 degree radar that scans adjacent lanes. Such a system would provide a cocoon of detection, able to distinguish humans, dogs, deer and other creatures, explained Gary O’Brien, Global Director of Advanced Engineering at Delphi, which is developing the technology. Sensors would tell you your distance from objects. Using this technology, Delphi completed a San Francisco to New York autonomous road trip. Brian Droessler, Vice President of Software and Connected Solutions, Continental, suggested vehicles could be equipped with visual (such as an LED light strip warning) and acoustic warnings. This would enable a passenger to correct an autonomous vehicle in an emergency. Droessler, however, explained that audio alerts are much more effective than visual warnings, which tend to be more distracting. But regardless of how safe autonomous vehicles might be, the experts suggested that manufacturers may have to accept liability after an accident.
The future isn’t just about automotive technological advances, it’s also about how we use our vehicles, or even if we have personal vehicles at all. John Zimmer, Lyft Cofounder and President, envisions a future in which we will be building cars and infrastructure to fit our lives. Young people are now less inclined to own a car or to drive. Mobile technologies like smart phones are the new symbols of freedom, so the challenge lies in building a harmonious relationship between cars and technology. Lyft is realizing this future by creating a ride-sharing culture with fewer drivers, fewer cars on the road and less traffic. One day, Zimmer said, we may be able to replace car parks with grass parks.
Ridesharing will reshape how we get around, and even if we decide to own a car, according to Lyft Cofounder and President John Zimmer.
Some startups are helping to realize this future. HopSkipDrive is a ride-sharing service designed specifically for kids and their busy parents. In the future, families will have fewer cars and teenagers will be less eager to drive or get their licenses, according to co-founder Joanna McFarland. HopSkipDrive matches kids with highly-vetted drivers with clean driving and criminal records. McFarland said her company personally screens and fingerprints each driver, selecting only those with at least five years’ childcare experience.
Taxis of the future will also contribute to a greater ride-sharing culture. Eric Spiegelman, President of the Los Angeles Taxi Commission, said taxis of the future will be driverless “taxibots.” Using and maintaining them will be cheaper per mile (25 cents) than for a traditional car. Furthermore, they won’t discriminate. They will go to inner-city districts and pick up any passenger, quickly responding to him or her regardless of location.
Frankie James, Managing Director of the Advanced Tech Office in Silicon Valley, General Motors, explained that ridesharing can be expanded by including shared vehicles as part of one’s rent. Renters, for example, can share several cars and be allotted a certain number of hours to use them each month.
Cars of the future will be like smartphones on wheels, which means they will be evolving and changing constantly. Over the Air (OTA) programming will create a new industry for remotely updating your car’s software, said Oren Betzaleli, Executive Vice President of Redbend Product Strategy, HARMAN. New applications and gadgets inside the car will keep drivers connected and entertained, while also keeping the roads safe. Vehicle applications are being developed for an intuitive, non-distracting experience, including effortless music selection on your audio system, according to Henry Newton-Dunn, Design Manager, Google, and Evan Malahy, Design Lead, Android Auto. Meanwhile, Sfara (formerly known as Driversiti) is creating applications that will turn a smartphone from a distraction into a safety alert system.
New technologies create new security risks, which require new strategies to neutralize them. Like a computer, connected and autonomous cars may be vulnerable to hacking, which has led industry leaders to debate if consumer demand alone can compel the industry to ensure sufficient cybersecurity, or if government needs to regulate. The experts at CCE opined that the market will play a role in determining when security measures are needed to address new risks. Andre Weimerskirch, Associate Research Scientist, UMTRI, said government agencies must establish a baseline for security, but competition among OEMs should drive security measures in the industry.
We’re set on a course that will upend automotive transportation in the coming decades. But just like most predictions of the near future made in movies (think of (1989) and its vision of October 21, 2015), the visionaries are often off. Yet at this critical time, they are planting the seeds for completely changing automotive transportation.
How do you envision cars of the future?