The automotive industry has always been the forefront of new technology trends. In the past 25 years alone we’ve seen improvements like the smart key, dual clutch transmission, and onboard diagnostics. But in 2017 there have been major technological milestones, here’s a look back at some automotive technological trends and stories that peaked our curiosity:
Self-driving cars have been hitting the headlines hard in 2017. Car manufacturers are teaming up with major Silicon Valley players to make an autonomous vehicle a reality. Uber teamed up with Volvo to supply up to 24,000 vehicles for their self-driving car efforts. Lyft already has investment from GM since 2016, but Lyft also has teamed up with Waymo to collaborate on self-driving technology. Not to be left behind from Silicon Valley competitors, Toyota unveiled the Lexus LS 600hL, a test vehicle equipped with LIDAR, radar, and variety of other imaging arrays. 2017 brought the automotive industry and silicon valley even closer than before and 2018 seems to be heading in that same direction as most OEMS plan to have fully autonomous vehicles by 2020.
LIDAR originated in 1960, shortly after the invention of the laser. LIDAR uses ultraviolet light to image objects. LIDAR took off in autonomous vehicles because of its ability to create 3D maps that give the car enough time to “see” what is in front of it. This system does have its downfalls as seen in the Autonomous Trap. All you need is flour to create lines and dots that confuse LIDAR’s sensors. Additionally, the current issue with cars using LIDAR is that the technology is very bulky and costly. Most systems cost around $80k. Also, Radars aren’t always the best when it comes to seeing detail, and the cameras LIDAR uses doesn’t work well in low light or when there’s glare.
One Silicon Valley company, Waymo, aims to tackle these problems. Waymo developed three additional sensors they hope to license to OEMS. Companies like Velodyne, are developing LIDAR systems that don’t need to spin in order to direct the laser beams.
With the competition for the autonomous game at an all time high, a lawsuit appeared earlier this year between Google and Uber. Google accused Uber of stealing sensor technology off their self-driving trucks, Otto, via a former employee, Anthony Levandowsk. Google says that Levandowsk stole over 14,000 highly confidential files before he left to create his own self-driving truck startup, which Uber later bought. Waymo’s legal strategy isn’t as solid as they’d like it to be as Judge Alsup, who is hearing the case, stated: “Having made and benefitted from its strategic choice to not name Levandowski as a defendant, Waymo may not renege and suggest that Otto Trucking—or any other defendant—is somehow a stand-in for Levandowski, or that misappropriation by Levandowski is somehow automatically transmogrified into misrepresentation by Otto Trucking—or any other defendant—such that Waymo need not separately prove the latter. Waymo’s strongest evidence on misappropriation is about Levandowski, not about Otto Trucking, and as a result of its own litigation strategy, Waymo cannot treat the two as fungible targets.”
In November the DOJ confirmed new criminal charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Seeing as this case started in February, we’re sure that more details will continue to unravel in the case.
In September of 2016, the EPA noticed that a lot of VW vehicles had dubious software installed in their diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested. As detailed in a BBC article: “Full details of how it worked are sketchy, although the EPA has said that the engines had computer software that could sense test scenarios by monitoring speed, engine operation, air pressure and even the position of the steering wheel.” This emission scandal not only hurt the environment by exceeding emission limits in the US by 40 times above what is allowed. It also hurt their image as VW touted that their diesel engines were more environmentally friendly than their American competitors. An attorney leading a class action suit against VW said diesel buyers are, “looking for the sweet spot between high mileage, performance, and environmental responsibility. They read Consumer Reports, do comparison shopping, do the math. They were highly invested in these vehicles … They were attempting to protect and preserve the environment.”
Now, this isn’t the first time VW was caught in a scandal, but it is the first time that they are being heavily punished and fined for. Former VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, who okayed the software is facing seven years in prison and $400,000 in fines. VW also has over $14.7 billion in fines to pay as well for cheating, the largest ever for an automaker. Cheaters never prosper.
Toyota and MIT are working together to incorporate the Blockchain into autonomous vehicles. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the blockchain is, “the distributed, encrypted ledger technology that powers the cryptocurrency bitcoin.” Basically, Blockchain allows shared access to data that is maintained by a network computers, rather than a third-party application. This means that ride sharing data will be used to develop tools to make ride sharing easier and to create usage-based insurance products. Chris Ballinger, Director of mobility services and chief financial officer at Toyota’s research institute adds more insight about Blockchain by stating, “Hundreds of billions of miles of human driving data may be needed to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicles. Blockchains and distributed ledgers may enable pooling data from vehicle owners, fleet managers, and manufacturers to shorten the time for reaching this goal, thereby bringing forward the safety, efficiency and convenience benefits of autonomous driving technology.”
Self-driving cars are poised to save millions of lives, and that leads to a serious shortage in organ donations. Currently, 1 in 5 organ donations come from vehicular accidents — it’s why licensing bureaus like the DMV asks you if you wish to be an organ donor. 95% of accidents are caused by human error. According to The Atlantic, up to 300,000 American lives could be saved every decade adding: “globally, there are about 1.2 million traffic fatalities annually, according to the World Health Organization, which means driverless cars are poised to save 10 million lives per decade.”
Although 2017 didn’t kick-off the self-driving age, it definitely solidified the exciting notion that this technology is coming. In 2018, we predict self-driving vehicles will go from thrilling novelty to something more robust with hundreds, if not thousands of self-driving cars hitting the public streets.
Who knows? Maybe next year at this time, you’ll be reading this article from your phone while your car delivers you home for the holidays.