Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Tuesday, May 5, 2015
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Michigan Paves Road Toward Autonomous Vehicle Licensing 

During his recent State of the State address, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his support for legislation to ensure that Michigan remains at the forefront of autonomous vehicle research.

California, Florida and Nevada have already passed similar measures to support local innovators. This effort is a bid to publicize innovative Michigan-based companies who require more than their limited road testing. Manufactures have been discretely testing autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads for years, and this new legislation would establish guidelines and open the market for small and medium sized companies to begin creating new autonomous vehicle technology.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) reports that the state is home to over 300 companies that engage in automotive R&D and spend over $10B annually on vehicle research. State officials hope that this expanded licensing plan will encourage these traditional companies to engage in autonomous R&D, making Michigan a global leader in the technology. An additional goal is to encourage non-traditional automotive companies – such as software developers who create the computer code that autonomous vehicles depend on – to collaborate with the existing automotive supply chain. This autonomous licensing legislation also opens the door for entrepreneurs to make their mark in the autonomous vehicle industry.

The Most Dangerous and Inefficient Component of Your Car

Why the interest in autonomous vehicles? For over a century, the automotive industry has optimized every component of the automobile. Modern vehicles are the culmination of thousands of technical improvements, introduced over time by a multitude of companies and individual inventors. We have drive-flat tires, air bags, fuel injection, hybrid engines and variable speed windshield wipers – all optimized for driver safety and vehicle performance. The next goal is to minimize the mistakes of human drivers by removing them from the equation.

Autonomous vehicle technology applies computer processing power, software, and advanced sensors to makes roads safer, provide increased mobility, and ultimately optimize vehicle performance. Autonomous vehicles have been shown to be safer than their human counterparts under ideal testing conditions.

The challenge now is to expand the technology to work in environments encountered by typical drivers while still being affordable. Another advantage is that an autonomous vehicle can optimize driving behavior to maximize fuel efficiency. They can also avoid traffic congestion and other hazards when used in conjunction with information from other vehicles (V2V), or from sensors along the road (V2I).

What Drives an Autonomous Vehicle?

An autonomous vehicle uses a combination of software and hardware sensors to automatically control the vehicle’s operation. The software interprets sensor data to safely drive the vehicle among road obstacles, obey traffic laws, and navigate from one destination to another using GPS. The sensors include a combination of radar, computer vision, and LIDAR (light detection and radar) to translate the outside world to the autonomous software system. If the system detects a fault it can safely pull over and park.

Automakers have brought autonomous-like features to market such as automatic parallel parking and adaptive cruise control, but no manufacturer has made plans to offer a fully autonomous vehicle for sale. Industry observers believe that the technology will mature enough to come to market in the next decade.

Barriers for Autonomous Vehicles

Liability is a key issue that needs to be resolved before the commercialization of an autonomous vehicle. Vehicle licensing and insurance guidelines will determine who initially will be responsible for accidents, but this is clearly a situation where the technology has outpaced the law. Current guidelines require a driver be in position to take manual control and identifies that person as being responsible for the vehicle. Who is responsible for software bugs and the inevitable failed sensors? These issues will be litigated as the technology becomes more commonplace.

Component cost will also need to be greatly reduced to enable mass integration in production vehicles. Current autonomous vehicle components can add an additional $150K of hardware to each vehicle, not to mention the software development and integration costs. But with practically every major automotive manufacturer working on autonomous vehicles, with a goal of improving the technology and reducing costs, it’s a safe bet that both goals will eventually be achieved.

And automotive companies aren’t the only ones working on the problem. Google, the software search and advertising giant, has publicly acknowledged its autonomous vehicles have driven over 300,000 miles on California roads with its only road mishap occurring when one of its vehicles was under the manual control of a human driver. Google has also been a major force in encouraging states to move forward on licensing of the vehicle.

A New Beginning

The giants of the automotive industry and tech world are poised to do battle in developing autonomous vehicle technology. The convergence of automobiles and computers is just beginning. The end result will transform our society in ways that we can hardly imagine. NCMS is collaborating with Michigan and other states to insure our manufacturers have a clear path to global leadership in autonomous vehicle technology.

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