The world as director Robert Stevenson encapsulated it in Disney’s 1968 hit film, The Love Bug, may not be so far away.
In the movie, aspiring race car driver Jim Douglas’ whole life changes when he finds himself in possession of Herbie – the famed, self-driving automobile. During one particularly climactic scene, an emotional Herbie is rushing full-speed ahead towards the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just as the Volkswagen is about to drive off into the bay, Douglas jumps in front. Herbie comes to a screeching halt and our courageous protagonist lands unconscious on the car’s hood.
A standby police officer, awestruck, walks up to Douglas and examines his unconscious, yet unharmed body. “Boy was he lucky. This little car saved his life,” he says. He was right.
While cars with mood swings more intense than those of teenagers will probably never exist, self-driving cars are a reality already beginning to hit the road. What’s more is that an open-ware, smart grid system for managing an entire network of these cars may be available within the next decade.
Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication, or V2V in traffic speak, is a novel technology that allows cars to interact with each other, broadcasting their location, speed, brake status, and other essential vehicle data within a several hundred meter radius. Messages – some 600 a minute – would be sent between cars traveling through similar routes1. Drivers would be alerted of potentially dangerous situations. If there was an unexpected obstruction the car would sense it and come to an immediate stop.
In the U.S. alone, over 30,000 car crashes end fatally every year. 93% of those are reported as having been influenced by human factors such as behavior, judgment, vision, or reaction speed2. It is unfortunate that vehicle collision is still one of the leading causes of death and V2V cars could change that. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over half a million crashes and perhaps, close to 270,000 hospitalization3 cases could be avoided through the technology, making roads safer than ever. By hard coding instructions that preempt any sort of collision, human error can be significantly reduced if not completely negated.
We are at the verge of an automobile revolution. V2V may still be in its infancy (although, General Motors has pledged to introduce the technology in its 2017-model Cadillac1), but researchers are already thinking about what’s coming next.
It’s well known now that Google, Tesla, Mercedes, and other car manufacturers around the globe are slowly unraveling the functionality of self-driving automobiles. If this is coupled with V2V technology, say goodbye to ever needing to learn how to drive. You will be able to just hop in the car, enter the location in the GPS on your phone, lay back, and enjoy your music playlist as you cruise to your destination.
Now imagine if each of these cars could connect to a control grid. This grid would be responsible for maintaining the flow of traffic by relaying commands to cars, indicating parameters such as recommended speed, recommended lanes, traffic lights, stalls, and various other alerts. No matter how smart an individual automobile becomes with its sensors, software, and Artificial Intelligence, without a unified ecosystem that enables networking among these cars, roads will still not be completely safe.
On the flip side, there are significant concerns attached to the pursuit of a smart grid for automobiles. One such worry revolves around potential security vulnerability. Will security technology stay ahead of such rapid advancement in vehicle technology? That alone could decide the outcome of how soon your Love Bug might take you on a spin.
- Knight, W. (2015, February 18). Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Will Save Lives on the Road | MIT Technology Review. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/534981/car-to-car-communication/
- Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.nhtsa.gov/NCSA
- NHTSA V2V Communications. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.safercar.gov/v2v/index.html
- Wollschlaeger, D. What’s Next? V2V (Vehicle-to-Vehicle) Communication With Connected Cars. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/insights/2014/09/connected-cars/