Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Smart Streets?


Last week’s post asked how smart were these automated cars being hailed as saviors of our highways. I asked many questions, all presuming these cars were autonomous—because that’s how they’re being promoted.

Well, they’re not. Basically, they’re mobile computers and no computer these days is independent of the Internet, or if you prefer, The Cloud. Even your stationary desktop computer gets constant updates from its various hardware and software makers.

Any automated car will be no different and therein lies a whole new set of questions. To what degree are they independent and to what degree are they connected to (controlled by) The Cloud?

Aside from the usual updates for its hardware and software, an automated car needs current information about the streets it’s navigating, not to mention its destination. (Hence the title.)

These cars need The Cloud for updates about traffic, road conditions, and even the roads themselves. It might be possible to load all the roads into the car’s computer, but is it likely?

Point being, there are continual updates to the whole system of roads, but only rarely to your localized region of actual driving. Updating a car with information on all roads is wasteful, and it could be dangerous.

How to update what data will determine the dependency of vehicles on The Cloud and therefore the Internet. If connections go down—even for a minute—it doesn’t mean one car is on its own. Rather all cars in this vicinity using the same connection will be left on their own. This gives us new questions.

Can these automated vehicles be sufficiently autonomous if they lose their Internet connection? Think fail-safe. And don’t assume that simply stopping (or even pulling over to the side of the road) will always be the right option.

The makers who propose these vehicles are big on showing us how these cars avoid obstacles. But the real value of automated cars is controlled traffic flow. That takes coordination, which raises a new set of questions.

There’s the problem of autos from different manufacturers. Or will the government step in and choose a single supplier, or at the very least a single computer system to be used by all?

If there are different manufacturers, will they use the same data? Supplied by whom? (Is all this just a power play by Google?) If they do use the same data, will they all update at the same time?

The more I look at this, the more questions I have. My biggest question is: Are the people selling this concept and those who will have to approve it asking the same questions?

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