“Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel,” sang The Doors in their 1970 song “Roadhouse Blues.” It was good advice then and it’s still valid today — but for how much longer? Will we soon be able to take our eyes off the road, our hands off the wheel, sit back and relax, surf, text, or tweet while the car does the driving?
The arguments for taking drivers out of the control loop of moving vehicles are well known. And the self-driving car is practically an accepted part of the future. Fewer traffic accidents and enormous reductions in greenhouse gas emissions via more efficient “road trains,” where a convoy of autonomous and semi-autonomous cars follows a lead vehicle, are just two of the expected benefits.
In fact, car manufacturers have been transitioning towards autonomous cars for years; many new high-end cars are semi-autonomous, assisting their human drivers with features such as Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keeping Assistance, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Self-Parking.
However, it is not just technology that is needed to further the use of self-driving cars, Legal frameworks are needed too. Insurance is just one example.
Motor insurance policies around the world are based on the assumption that there is a human driver in control of the car. The introduction of self-driving cars will create a transfer of insurance risk from the car driver to the car manufacturer. For example, if a self-driving car is involved in a collision with a car controlled by a human driver, how will liability be assessed? As the vast majority of traffic accidents are the result of human error, will there be an assumption that the human driver was at fault? Will the manufacturer of the self-driving car have to provide a telematics record—like an aircraft’s black box recorder—that proves that it was operating at all times in accordance with its specifications? Insurance companies and car manufacturers around the world are considering this thorny problem.
Our ability to make cars smarter via semiconductor technology is way ahead of the legal and civil infrastructures that would make fully autonomous cars possible in the immediate future. However, although the semiconductor industry cannot create these frameworks and infrastructures, it will play a major role in shaping their development.
For example, communication between vehicles (V2V) and the infrastructure (V2I), collectively known as V2X, is a key part of all future smart-driving scenarios and its evolution (e.g. special extensions of the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN standard) will necessarily reflect what is known to be technically and economically possible. To this end, ST is working with V2X experts Autotalks to deliver a mass market-optimized V2X chipset for widespread deployment by 2017.
The role of leading automotive semiconductor innovators like ST is to talk to everyone and work with other innovative companies to make the dream of self-driving cars come true. So, even though our hands are not directly upon the wheel, our eyes are firmly fixed on the road ahead.
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