Self-driving cars have been a popular part of our social imaginings for decades, with everything from Tesla's autopilot to autonomous flying cars from The Jetsons coming across our minds when we summon the concept.
While much of the ongoing conversation surrounding self-driving cars is centered on moral dilemmas like how they should respond in the event of a crash, not enough attention is being paid to the diverse ways that big data will be necessary for the future of autonomous vehicles.
In this article, we explore the reason behind why big data is the future of self-driving cars and why the continued development of the IoT will play a vital role in creating a world fit for autonomous transportation.
Self-driving cars need big data to see
The simplest reason that self-driving cars need big data is that they simply cannot see without it. While self-driving cars are equipped with cameras and sensors that enable them to survey and interact with their local environments, they are entirely useless without access to a reliable stream of data about what is around them and what they should be expecting down the line. Some autonomous cars are already guzzling data down faster than they are gasoline.
According to former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, self-driving vehicles will generate and consume about 40 terabytes of data for every eight hours they drive, meaning that autonomous vehicles will be relying on information at least as much as on fossil fuels or electric motors. Autonomous vehicles are simply incapable of operating safely unless they have access to plentiful reams of data that can be used to make wise decisions, plus they will only need more information as time goes on and the technology powering them becomes more complex.
This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes into play. The IoT can effectively be defined as the grid of interconnected gadgets, sensors and devices that make up most of the modern internet. One of the defining facets of the IoT is the fact that data is frequently and widely shared within its confines, with literally billions of sensors, devices and other gadgets communicating with one another on a daily basis. For self-driving cars to become a true reality, we will need to keep expanding the IoT, while continuing to generate a culture of data-transparency which fosters sharing and accessibility for all.
Soon, our self-driving cars may be equipped with artificial intuition, or the ability for a car to autonomously predict what is about to occur, so it can react accordingly to preserve the safety of passengers and civilians alike. As you might imagine, artificial intuition is an essential part of designing self-driving cars that do not terrify the public and comply with local traffic laws to avoid getting a traffic ticket; without the ability for these autonomous vehicles to make wise, justified decisions to save lives in the event of a car accident, few people will ever buy into self-driving cars as a viable option for the future of transportation.
Just because autonomous cars are developing gut feelings in the same way that humans have does not mean they will be smart enough to save the day, however. They will need the help of humans and the data we generate in order to effectively prevent accidents and efficiently plan transportation routes. If human beings continue to focus on creating an IoT and energy grid of the future that is directly accessible to autonomous cars, we may enjoy self-driving vehicles sooner than we have previously imagined possible.
The auto industry is already boosting the IoT
The smartest people in the auto industry understand that big data is the future of self-driving cars and they are reacting accordingly by investing heavily into the IoT. Research has demonstrated that the automotive industry is on track to move away from "connected" vehicles toward full autonomous vehicles that are so apart of their local IoT grid that they have become ingrained into the nebula of gadgets and sensors that make up most modern cities. In the IoT, everything is communicating with everything else, so your self-driving car may soon be chatting with sensors on the highway or city it is driving in to determine the most suitable route for traffic.
It is becoming quite clear that the tech for automated cars is already here, but we lack the data to make that tech function in a desirable way. Even a few human lives lost to self-driving cars is enough to scare the public and disincentivize investors enough to possibly kill this trend before it ever takes off. If self-driving cars are to have a bright future on our roads, tech companies and automotive manufacturers need to come together to vacuum up data in a more efficient manner than ever before.
Tesla claims it is leading the way in the collection of data that is useful for autonomous vehicles, but production problems that have plagued the company for years continue to inhibit the its ability to produce a line of autonomous vehicles at scale. More collaboration is needed across the industry, as transparency and data-sharing are an essential part of the future of self-driving cars. While competition is necessary to keep innovators on their toes, self-driving cars can only become a reality if the brightest minds of our day are working together to make them a possibility.
Do not believe what you hear about AI or the importance of "smart cars" – the real future of self-driving cars is big data, which stands to totally upend our modern understandings of transportation.