Internet of Things in the Automobiles

The Internet of Things is fast becoming a hot topic and a major field in technology. For the uninitiated, the Internet of Things is a network of physical objects that can be anything from heart monitors to vehicles that are capable of internet connectivity and actively exchange data between one another to achieve various outcomes such as remote monitoring, dynamic warning systems, feedback mechanisms etc. The car is more than just a tool for transportation.

It acts as a platform for mechanical and electronic breakthroughs pushing for better engineering ingenuity. As such, locomotives aren’t that far behind dish washers and thermostats in the implementation of IoT.

IoT in cars has a vast array of applications. We go through some of the most popular (and interesting) concepts currently in production and development.

Autonomous Control & Vehicle to Vehicle Communication

Driverless vehicle technology is the next big thing in the automotive industry. Manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Tesla have made major strides in this field. However, while their systems do not incorporate IoT in its strongest form, we may see a shift in this mindset soon after self-driving cars become mainstream and the infrastructure allows it. Here, instead of a car operating independently–constantly scanning its surroundings with algorithms running to detect high danger scenarios — IoT will allow for communication between vehicles in real time.

Vehicle to Vehicle Communication will prove to be a useful system in the near future
Vehicle to Vehicle Communication will prove to be a useful system in the near future

As a result, more information regarding a car’s environment and other vehicles within a given area of effect is fed into its main processing units which gives rise to better, more accurate details with which the vehicle can calculate its next move. Consider this situation: an accident has occurred five kilometers ahead in the path of a traveling driver-less car that has resulted in a blockade. Although the car cannot “see” this accident, information regarding the accident has been recorded by vehicles via a host of sensors and on-board computers within the accident area. To prevent further traffic congestion, this information is passed onto cars that are set to use this route to reach their destination. Incoming vehicles receive this information and dynamically alter their routes to keep travel time at a minimum and clear the road ahead for any emergency services that may arrive at the scene.

Smart Sign Posts

Smart sign posts are traffic sign posts that display information via a digital display. The information displayed on the sign post changes dynamically with respect to changing traffic conditions to help drivers optimize driving techniques. Consider the very same example above. Soon after the emergency services arrive and clear the area of any casualties, debris from the accident must then be collected. This usually results in the concerned authorities setting up a small perimeter around the crash site and thereby reducing the number of usable lanes. A smart sign receives information of this act and reduces the speed limit displayed with an additional icon indicating road work ahead. The sign also transmits this data across to cars in its vicinity to let autonomous vehicles adjust current speeds and swap lanes if needed.

Smart sign posts allow drivers to learn additional context based information when on the road
Smart sign posts allow drivers to learn additional context based information when on the road

Over The Air Updates

Recalls happen all the time. While manufacturers test cars extensively, some errors or faults do fall through the cracks from time to time and make it to production. Currently, even if the fault can be fixed by minor changes to software, one must send the vehicle back to a service center for an update. With IoT however, updates can be pushed over the air (OTA) to reduce the hassle of actually driving the car to the service center. OTA updates can also add security fixes to a vehicle’s on-board computer system to reduce the risk of hacking and decrease manufacturer response times for such scenarios. Similar to a smartphone, a car’s infotainment system can also be updated over the air to ensure passengers have the very latest OS on board.

OTA updates improves convenience
OTA updates improves convenience

The concept of Internet of Things provides an almost infinite number of possibilities for the coming generations. IoT offers a future that provides increased safety and comfort unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. However, IoT does have a dark side. With more and more devices connected to the cloud, hackers will no doubt target such devices as well. While one can ensure exhaustive testing is done on security systems, software is never fully secure and will result in relatively harmless acts of mischief or open up a window for high profile terrorist attacks.

Pioneers of Autonomous Cars

The field of driverless cars has been developing at an incredibly fast pace. Up until the early 2010’s, Google remained the sole proponent for fully autonomous cars. However, come CES 2014, BMW soon showcased their advancements in the field as well. As a result, other mainstream manufacturers soon jumped the bandwagon and have begun their in-house development of autonomous cars. We take a look at the current players playing an active role in bringing driverless cars to the general public.

Google

One of the earliest advocates for autonomous driving technology, tech giant Google has been tweaking and testing its driverless car for a few years now. Prior to its current in-house developed super mini, Google made use of existing cars such as Toyota Prius and the Lexus RX450h and retrofitted each of them with sensors, cameras and specialized hardware to allow for autonomous capabilities.

The Google driverless car
The Google driverless car

Soon after, Google developed its very own bespoke car to continue with its experiments and showcase what its fully production ready car might look like. The Google car is a small hatch with a neutral color paint job. Unlike other manufacturers that provide a manual override in the form of a steering wheel and conventional pedals, Google’s driverless car features nothing of the sort. A sign of complete confidence from the maker in its abilities. The car features no distinct features save for two ‘eyes’ and a ‘nose’. The main purpose of the car’s “cutesy” design is to disarm the general public.

The car make’s use of a dizzying array of sensors and cameras to map the road ahead. The on-board computer then processes this information with pre-existing map data to create an inch perfect replica of its immediate surroundings. Some computation is even performed on remote server locations. Each Google car is fitted with sensor equipment worth over $150,000.

BMW

Although Google may have been one of the first endorsers of driverless vehicles, recent reports suggest that the tech supergiant is not leading horse of this race. Mainstream manufacturers such as BMW may have a higher probability of launching a fully autonomous car for commercial purposes. Unlike the Google car that focused primary on city driving, BMW’s initiative proved a bit more entertaining. The self-driving car in its most advanced avatar was showcased at CES 2014 in the form of a live demo. The Bavarian car maker managed to develop a system that mapped a certain race track and “learnt” the quickest possible routes. Similar to Google’s self-driving car, BMW’s autonomous 2 Series and 6 Series were fitted with a host of sensors that generate a 3D map of the car’s surroundings.

BMW's ultimate "drifting" machine
BMW’s ultimate “drifting” machine

Tesla

Tesla’s entry into the autonomous vehicle industry was rather unexpected. Unlike other manufacturers that advertised the upcoming technology, Elon Musk quietly added an autopilot mode for the Model S in a recent update that allowed near complete autonomous driving. However, human intervention is required from time to time. However, with the addition of the feature, Tesla has officially joined the race.

Tesla Model S P85D
The new Tesla Model S models come with auto pilot

Ford

Ford has had a late start in the autonomous vehicle segment. Ford and one other South Korean car maker are the only two manufacturers on this list that cater to a wider spectrum of car buyers. With Ford’s entry this year, we may see small instances of autonomous driving technologies such as fully driverless parking and retrieval in budget cars such as the Fiesta or Taurus.

Ford has only recently jumped into the driverless car band wagon
Ford has only recently jumped into the driverless car band wagon

Kia

South Korean car maker Kia is the other budget manufacturer to begin testing its autonomous vehicular technology. Although Ford’s and Kia’s development phases have only just begun, 2016 provides far more resources and information regarding autonomous driving technology than all the previous years. As such, the manufacturers are now able to work with more than what most car makers began with.

Kia is a South Korean car maker under Hyundai's ownership
Kia is a South Korean car maker under Hyundai’s ownership

Audi

Audi is one of the only manufacturers on this list to have actually released its autonomous fleet to the media. As part of an event, a few journalists were offered a ride from Las Vegas to CES 2015. An interesting feature of Audi’s system is the inclusion of two cameras that constantly monitor the driver’s eyes. Should the driver close his eyes, the car begins beeping loudly and comes to a complete halt following which the car switches its hazard lights on.

Audi's fleet of autonomous cars ferried journalists from Las Vegas to CES
Audi’s fleet of autonomous cars ferried journalists from Las Vegas to CES

As with most new technologies, the latent complications and ethical dilemmas of various scenarios are yet to be fully explored. Similar to the internet, Einstein’s mass-energy equation and programming, autonomous vehicles are also susceptible to misuse. As such, fears of the public are not unfounded. However, one must progress and the only direction is forwards.

The Future of Locomotion: Autonomous Driving

bmw self driving car

CES, the annual event that serves as a platform to showcase some of the most creative and path breaking inventions of the year has always been host to a wide array of developers from every field. Although phone and chip makers have always been regulars at the event developers from various other industries have slowly entered the fray.

ces 2014
CES brings together some of the most innovative ideas and path breaking technologies from manufacturers from across the globe

CES 2014 and 2015 saw the debut of BMW’s and Audi’s autonomous driving technologies. Both manufacturers have developed systems capable of maneuvering, accelerating and braking in high speed, high risk conditions. This new technology has been long touted to be the future. With game developers, film producers and even scientists proposing radical new modes of autonomous locomotion, the world strongly believes that the next big leap for the auto industry will be the autonomous driving era.

google self driving car
Tech giants such as Google have also shown keen interest in the field of self driving cars

Although BMW debuted its self driving tech much earlier, a far more refined system was showcased last year. Dubbed ConnectedDrive, the system was developed in-house by BMW’s Technik division. The project aims at making a some of the cars in the German automaker’s range fully autonomous by 2020.

bmw self driving car
BMW aims for a fully autonomous range by 2020

Demonstrated with the German car maker’s 6 Series Gran Coupe and 2 Series, the presentation featured the cars navigate an entire race course with no input from the driver whatsoever. More than that however, the Bimmers put on a breathtaking show with smokey burnouts and tail spins. The Bavarian manufacturer’s Autonomous driving tech painted the future in a new and wondrous light.

Audi, BMW’s biggest rival made its big leap into the future with its “Piloted Driving” system. Though not fully dependent on the computer’s vast array of sensors and processors as BMW, Audi’s new tech is just as impressive. While BMW showcased its system at CES in closed grounds, Audi took it one step further by testing the concept on a long distance drive from San Francisco all the way to Las Vegas where the event is held. Affectionately named Jack, the Audi sportsback managed to travel the 900 km journey with minimal input from the driver.

audi rs7 autonomous car
Audi’s customized RS7 made it through a 900 km journey with almost no driver input whatsoever

The self driving Audi car serves as a bridge between pure autonomous vehicles and our current generation. Similar to our transition from candle light to electricity, the shift from modern day locomotion to autonomous driving will be a gradual one. Although BMW envisions the grand future, Audi’s self driving A7 gives us an idea about what the very near future of road traffic will be.

While most of civilization embraces the future, some experts are rather discouraged and even dismiss the idea of autonomous driving. The idea of self driving cars may evoke images of a safer and less threatening future, however, in actuality, shocking latent ethical and legal complications frequently arise in the most common of situations.

Wired magazine’s Patrick Lin explores the mind boggling moral ramifications of simply designing a crash aversion and damage control algorithm for cars. He suggests that the development of such an algorithm is not unlike the design of a targeting mechanism. On the surface, these algorithms may be seen as a method for terrorist attacks. However, bizarre ethical and legal issues raise their ugly heads in real world applications. For example, consider an imminent crash wherein the autonomous crash must make a decision between colliding with a motorcyclist with a helmet and a motorcyclist without.

Common sense and probability dictates that the vehicle must collide with the biker that has a higher chance of survival i.e. the one wearing the helmet. This leads to a situation where the motorist adhering to the rules is punished. This will in turn lead to a radical change in riding habits of most bikers. By cultivating hazardous driving habits, such motorists will be less prone to “attack” from the on-board computer systems. A strange consequence of autonomous driving.

By ensuring cars and bikes are safer in tougher conditions, consumers have a tendency to push harder with the knowledge that the car has been designed to provide better safety. There is no escaping the veiled hurdles of the future but as Mr. Lin suggests, with conscious effort from consumers and a better understanding of what is under the hood of the car of the future, we can better appreciate and implement this new technology.