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Autonomous cars: Are they convenient or intrusive?

Posted: 24 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:autonomous vehicles  privacy  Wi-Fi  connectivity 

Talking to some of my colleagues in the automotive industry, GM/OnStar may be on the right track. Since as early as 1997, when GM announced OnStar, the "hole in the roof" has been the prime real-estate for wireless connectivity to passenger vehicles. While the black blob was a styling challenge to some OEMs, today the shark fin or other variants are nearly ubiquitous.

For V2V applications, the hole in the roof is likely to be the location of the intra-vehicle connectivity solution. Why? While cars have radar, lidar, cameras and other sensors in places like bumpers or mirrors, to form a large mesh network of cars on the road, the wireless solution needs to be in a location to provide high-reliability links. The roof gets the system line-of-sight to nearby vehicles in most situations, while other locations would be compromised in one or more directions.

Consider a typical (proposed) V2V scenario: a mile ahead of you, traffic is slowing to a crawl on the highway. Cars already stuck in the jam tell cars behind them about the problem, which tell cars behind them, and so on until your car suggests you take the next exit and avoid a delay. If most of the antennas are blocked and the message doesn't get to you, then all that technology goes to waste, and your time is wasted too. Add economies of scale to the fact that V2V needs high attach rates to work, and I predict OEMs will make more wireless standard. Thus, it is likely that your future car will have an LTE connection and links to other cars, whether you want it to or not.

2015 Chevrolet Camaro

Figure 2: The 2015 Chevrolet Camaro sports what is now a barely noticeable shark fin antenna module on the roof. These modules contain everything from FM to SiriusXM, plus cellular and GPS. (Source: GM Creative Commons Licence)

That brings us back to privacy, big data and the law. If your car always knows where it is, is always connected to the Internet and is carrying on conversations with other cars, what does that mean to you? Convenience, or the spectre of Big Brother?

- Blaine Bateman

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