Move: The innovations reshaping how we get around

Driverless Vehicles Will Talk to Us

Envisioning a not-so-distant future where our cars can detect our locations, our to-do lists, and our heart rates.

When we switched from landlines to smartphones about 10 years ago, there was a fundamental shift in how we understood communication technology. Until that point, we’d been using phones pretty much the same way for over 100 years—we got faster lines and wireless handsets along the way, but the basic function of the device stayed the same. Then smartphones came along, and they altered everything we knew about and expected from telecommunication.

A similar shift is about to happen with cars. Vehicles are faster and more eco-friendly than when they were first invented, but they’ve been consistent in functionality: They’ve always been gas-powered boxes operated by a human steering a wheel. With autonomous vehicles on the horizon, though, we can expect our relationship with cars—and our cars’ relationship to the world—to change, and soon.

It’s hard to say for sure exactly what those changes will look like before autonomous vehicles are even on the market. But a good deal of discussion surrounds the capabilities that will allow a car to communicate with its surroundings—how it will talk to other cars (also known as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2V) and how it will talk to the objects it passes and the roads it rides on (vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, or V2I).

In the new era of automotives, how will driverless cars talk to us? How will they talk to each other? How will they talk to the world around them?

Automated vehicles will talk to roads

Self-driving cars will be capable of seamless parallel parking–and parking as we know it will transform accordingly. But that’s not the only thing that will impact parking innovation, according to Johanna Zmud, the Director of the National Office at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

“If I'm an urban dweller and I have a self-driving car, the car may not have to be parked in an expensive urban parking lot,” she says. Instead, it could be stored in a more remote, less-bank-busting lot or suburban street, then be beckoned back by using mobility capabilities—similar to the kinds we use to communicate with ride-sharing services.

Pavement technology is also changing, with smart pavement companies like Integrated Roadways beginning to facilitate communication between cars and the roads they take. When the road and cars are connected, vehicles may be able to get real-time data about traffic and road conditions, provided by sensors in the road.

Automated vehicles will talk to traffic signals

V2I communication could enable driverless cars to communicate with traffic signals, says Zmud. Not only would it allow cars to follow travel rules, it could also optimize how cars move along roadways.

“If you have a highly congested corridor, you have a lot of trucks on that corridor. If those trucks could send a signal priority to the traffic signal [that makes the signal] stay green longer to allow the trucks to go through, [to] keep traffic moving, that could have congestion relief benefits.” Optimizing car movement could also put vehicles on the road for less time, reducing carbon emissions and offering more eco-friendly transit solutions.

Automated vehicles will talk to us

Our interactions with driverless cars will look a whole lot like the ways in which we currently interact with computers, phones, and the internet–it’ll just go a step further. This kind of interaction is called a digital/physical hybrid network. It's a physical iteration of the digital accommodations with which we’re already familiar.

Integrated Roadways CEO and CTO Tim Sylvester offers an example: It’s your anniversary, and your AI assistant, synced to your car, notices you haven’t made any purchases today. It suggests you stop at the upcoming flower shop to buy your significant other a bouquet.

It’s similar to the ad suggestions we get from Google and Facebook, but with immediate, physical solutions that allow us to go places, make purchases, and interact with other people.

Automated vehicles will talk to everything

When cars are connected, they become vulnerable to security breaches. The risk isn’t any higher than other hacking risks, says Zmud—your computer is just as likely to be compromised, if not moreso. Nevertheless, the intersection between connectivity and safety presents a unique opportunity for engineers to get creative with their cybersecurity solutions.

“The idea is to say, Okay. How do we become resilient in the face of hacking? If that were to happen, what do we do? What's the sort of sales take on that?” Zmud says.

Automakers could even develop technology that triggers automatic and total shutdowns of vehicles, says Sylvester, and resilient technology is something that corporations and startups across the globe can invest their time, energy, and talent into. Innovation is the key to adapting new technology to any and all scenarios—and that innovation presents a world of opportunity for inventors and investors alike. “That’s the appeal of the emergence of a new platform,” he says.

Automated vehicles will change our expectations

The changes that will come along with autonomous vehicles are a lot to consider—cars that talk to houses? Cars that suggest we buy flowers for our wives? Cars that shut down automatically to prevent a disaster? None of that fits in the paradigm of driving that we’ve been familiar with for over 100 years.

“It is very hard on the average person’s mind to accept that we need to completely shake out the bedsheets,” Sylvester says. “But we already did that in the late-‘90s with the internet. We already did that in the mid-2000s with the smartphone.”

We’ve done it before, and with the right innovators working behind the scenes, we can do it again.