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3/18/2014
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Big Data Drives The Smart Car

The data-driven car is coming -- whether you like it or not.

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Lane-departure warnings, blind spot detection, auto-braking, and self-parking: These are a few examples of emerging safety features designed to make driving safer. Sorry, humans, but the message here is clear: The best way to make makes roads safer is to supplement, and eventually bypass, the weakest link in every vehicle's crash-avoidance system -- the easily-distracted, irrational, and sometimes dangerous human driver.

Google's self-driving car project, in which a Toyota Prius is modded with a remote-sensing Lidar (laser radar) system, is probably the best-known example of driverless technology, but automakers are working on their own fully and semi-autonomous rides as well. Nissan Motor, for instance, has announced plans to introduce "multiple, commercially-viable Autonomous Drive vehicles" within six years.

Great. The autonomous vehicle is almost ready. But are drivers eager to accept cars and trucks that take away their control, even if it means a safer journey?

"The difficulty is whether we accept it or not, " said Grace Wang, associate professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

Wang has conducted extensive research in vehicular and sensor networks, specifically those for smart highway projects. Her recent work includes INVENT (Inter-Vehicular Network Technologies), an effort to develop inter-vehicular computing, networking, and sensing technologies for next-generation autos.

[What about hackers and other security threats? Read Internet Of Things Meets Cars: Security Threats Ahead.]

The technology behind driverless cars has advanced to the point where we'll certainly see them on the road within a decade, said Wang. Even if drivers don't embrace fully autonomous vehicles, they're likely to accept other aspects of smart highways and connected cars, including projects that INVENT is currently developing.

A roadside sensor network, for instance, could detect deer crossing a dark highway and immediately send an alert to an approaching vehicle -- a boon to drivers in rural, wooded areas. On the energy-saving front, street lamps could automatically switch off in areas with no nighttime traffic, and turn on only when road sensors detect a vehicle getting closer.

Here's where the big data angle comes in: The smart car of the near future is essentially part of a gigantic data-collection engine. "Such vehicles have embedded computers, GPS receivers, short-range wireless network interfaces, and potentially access to in-car sensors and the Internet. Furthermore, they can interact with roadside wireless sensor networks on roads where these networks are deployed," according to INVENT's website.

The INVENT project designs and implements network protocols, middleware platforms, and security features geared toward a variety of smart-highway applications, including congestion avoidance, traffic safety, and in-vehicle entertainment.

Sensor networks, of course, are essential to the success of the smart highway concept.

"A large number of sensors nodes can be deployed basically anywhere," said Wang. "Sensors are very small, so they can be used in many places, especially in areas hostile to human beings or remote to us. After sensors are deployed, they can monitor the area. They can generate data and send the data back to us through wireless communication."

The ability of vehicles to communicate with each other is another key factor in all of this. With algorithms and predictive models, data-swapping cars will be able to foresee future events as well, predicted Intel research scientist Jennifer Healey in a TED Talk last year.

By getting GPS systems, stereo cameras, short-range radios, and laser range finders (common in auto backup systems) to exchange data, a highway of "gossiping" vehicles could be a very good thing.

"In the future, with cars exchanging data with each other, we will be able to see not just three cars ahead, (but also) three cars behind, to the right and left -- all at the same time," said Healey.

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Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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Valerie Raburn
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Valerie Raburn,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/25/2014 | 2:09:55 PM
Driverless Carsí impact on Auto Insurance Industry
I definitely agree that the challenge with driverless cars will be accepting them as a society, but as production costs come down, I think more people will embrace them—either purchasing them outright, or booking them on a per-use basis, the way we rent cars today— much like the widely-accepted zipcar sensation.

Aside from acceptance, another big hurdle to take into consideration is the potential impact on the insurance industry. Since the concept of "distracted driver" will cease to exist—fewer accidents and consequently lower insurance rates—DUIs, Driver's Ed, and collision insurance will become a thing of the past.

Again, we won't see this all come together for about another 15 years out, but testing is currently active and technology is gradually emerging and bits and pieces are starting to surface in the marketplace. Since about 75% of auto insurance is linked to collision and liability exposures, that revenue will steadily start to decline leaving the auto insurance industry staring at a fresh, new landscape. Insurers' primary revenue streams will shift from personal lines to commercial lines—and I predict we will see new, unconventional vendors (such as an Amazon.com) retool their offerings to compete for the remaining 25% of the personal auto insurance business-- comprehensive coverage that takes care of things like natural disasters and theft.

 

-Valerie Raburn, vice president and chief innovation officer for the insurance division of Xerox.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/19/2014 | 10:51:05 AM
Re: Drink Driving
That's an interesting point. That whole industry is in danger of disappearing once self-drive cars become a thing. Hell even one that can park itself would eliminate a lot of taxis, since driving into the city would be a lot easier if you didn't have to worry about finding somewhere to park, just get dropped off and leave it to find a space itself. 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 8:43:36 PM
Re: Drink Driving
Agreed, though I'm not sure taxi drivers would would approve.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2014 | 10:48:48 AM
Drink Driving
I think one of the biggest life-savers with this tech would be the near elimination of drink driving. If people could drive somewhere, drink and then be driven home by their car, even if it was slow, that would save a lot of lives. The drivers and their potential victims. 
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