Questions to Ask on the Journey to Autonomous Vehicles

In or out of Earth’s orbit, the journey will show similarities to the space race.

What comes first, connected vehicles or smart cities?

Smart cities will come first and play a critical role in the adoption of connected vehicles. The federal government is also investing money into these programs in many ways. USDOT has finalized seven cities that include San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Columbus and Pittsburgh through their Smart City Challenge Program.

Many of the remaining cities/states are finding alternate sources to fund their smart city deployments.

When we look at a co-operative safety initiative such as V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything), we see that it requires a majority of the vehicles to be supportive of the same technology. Proliferation of V2X is going to take few years to reach critical mass. This is the reason connected vehicles equipped with V2X are looking at smart city infrastructure as a way to demonstrate the use case scenarios for the “Day One Applications.”

What are the chief pillars of the autonomous vehicle (AV) market?

The three core pillars of the autonomous vehicle market will be:

  • Number Crunching Systems
    • Development of multicore processors has helped fuel the AI engines that are needed for the autonomous vehicle market. More and more companies are using GPUs and multicore processors for their complex algorithms. It is estimated that these systems process 1GB of data every second.
  • ADAS Sensors
    • The cost/performance ratio for ADAS sensors like lidars, radars and cameras has improved significantly over the past couple of years.  All of this will reduce the total cost of the core systems needed for autonomous vehicle systems, making the technology more mainstream.
  • Connectivity and Security
    • Connectivity will play a key role for such systems. Autonomous vehicles depend heavily on information from external sources like the cloud, other vehicles and infrastructure. These systems need to validate their sources and build a secure firewall to protect their information.

Total BOM for a complete system in the next five years will be around $5,000, and the total cost of the system to consumers will only add $20,000 or less to the vehicle’s sticker price. For a relatively small increase, consumers will get numerous benefits, ranging from enhanced safety to stress-free driving. This is one of the reasons why companies like Cruise got acquired for such huge valuations.

What three key events should embedded designers working on automotive solutions for semi-autonomous and autonomous driving anticipate?

  • Sensor Fusion
    • Standards will need to be developed to allow free integration of ADAS sensors, connecting all the various ADAS applications and supporting data sharing between these sensors.
  • Advances in Parallel Computing Inside Automotive Electronics
    • ECU systems inside the cars will eventually be replaced with complex parallel computing ADAS platforms. Artificial intelligence engines inside these platforms need to take advantage of parallel computing when processing gigabytes of data per second. Real time systems that can ascertain the decision making process in a split second will make all the difference.
  • Redundancy
    • Finally, the industry needs to create a redundant fault tolerant architecture. When talking about autonomous vehicles, the systems that enable autonomous driving need to have redundancy to ensure the system is always operating as designed.

How will the push to create self-driving cars (similar to what happened in the space race) result in useful technology for other areas?

The drone/surveillance video market will benefit from the push to create self-driving technology. Drones have similar characteristics to self-driving cars, just on a much smaller scale. The complexities around drone airspace management will definitely need some industry rules and support. This market will benefit from the advances and rule-making experience leveraged from self-driving cars.

What was the role of USDOT pilots and other research for enabling the autonomous vehicle market?

The role of the USDOT pilots has been predominantly focused on connected vehicles, and not much has happened yet with autonomous vehicles. The deployment of connected vehicle technology infrastructure can determine the usefulness to improve the robustness of data received by vehicles. This infrastructure for connected vehicles will pave the way for autonomous vehicles. Roadside infrastructure will play a role in monitoring rogue vehicles.

USDOT is also focusing on creating regulation and policies for autonomous vehicle deployments. Several test tracks around the United States (California, Michigan and Florida) have been funded by the USDOT. These proving grounds are setup with miles of paved roads that simulate an urban driving environment.

Many automakers have set 2020 as the goal for automated-driving technology in production models. Pilots and research by USDOT represent a huge reduction in risk for the automotive OEMs.

What else should embedded designers keep in mind when the topic is autonomous vehicles?

  • 100 Million Lines of Code
    • Connected vehicle technology is the single most complex system that is built by mankind. It takes about 100 million lines of code to build such a system and is more complex than a space shuttle, an operating system like Linux kernel, and smartphones. We recommend that the embedded designers depend on well tested and pre-defined middleware blocks to accelerate their design process.
  • FOTA and SOTA Updates
    • We also recommend that embedded designers build systems that depend heavily on firmware over the air (FOTA) and software over the air (SOTA) systems. We know that cars are going to follow the same trend as smartphones that require frequent software updates. Tesla has set a great example of this process with its updates and has said that its vehicles will constantly improve over time.
  • Aftermarket Systems as a Way to Introduce New Capabilities
    • Finally, embedded designers need to look at aftermarket systems as way to introduce semi-autonomous features to determine the feasibility and acceptance of these building blocks before they become part of the mainstream.

Puvvala_thumbRavi Puvvala is CEO of Savari.With 20+ years of experience in the telecommunications industry, including leading positions at Nokia and Qualcomm Atheros, Puvvala is the founder of Savari and a visionary of the future of mobility. He serves as an advisory member to transportation institutes and government bodies.

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