Autonomous Vehicles: Science Fiction or Reality?

Automobiles play a prominent role in our daily lives.  For example, when you consider the fact that Americans spend over 100 hours a year just driving to/from work, we can safely say that driving is a very time consuming activity.

Luckily, researchers have been working to decrease the inconveniences caused by automobiles. Vehicle automation is one solution. Car-to-car communication, a hot topic in the telecommunications industry right now, will allow us to enable automation and control traffic through communication networks.  The overall objective of car-to-car communication is to help increase automobile safety and improve the efficiency of traffic flow.

One near-term goal of car-to-car communication is to provide a simple warning and messaging system to drivers, allowing them to use caution and anticipate any difficulty on the road ahead. For instance, a fire truck on its way to assist in an emergency will be aware of any obstacles on the road, like construction work.

car-to-car communication

car-to-car communication

Here are a few scenarios that could become a reality in the future:

  1. A simple warning and messaging system, as described earlier.
  2. An automated highway allowing only cars equipped with a communication system. Drivers will only need to lay back and relax while “driving” on these parts of the road.
  3. Automated cars will drive you all the way to your final destination. In fact, we are actually closer to achieving this vision than we think.  According to a recent article about autonomous vehicle testing at BMW,

“BMW is hardly alone in pursuing semi- and fully autonomous technology and “intelligent” vehicles. Volvo, for example, successfully tested a semi-autonomous “road train” earlier this year, and a fully autonomous Audi TTS reached the summit of Pikes Peak last year. And Google has racked up more than 140,000 miles with its self-driving cars.” 
(Source: Wired Magazine Blogs, Autopia)

We’re not talking about science fiction, because these scenarios will become reality one day.  However, achieving these goals will not come without obstacles—technical, economic, political, and sociological obstacles—that can stand in the way of seeing these projects come to fruition:

  • Is there political awareness and willingness to mandate car manufacturers to install a communication system?
  • Are drivers willing to change their driving behaviour and relinquish control to a machine?
  • Are the different stakeholders in the industry willing to invest in these types of projects? And if so, at what cost and return on investment?
  • How can we ensure that the telecommunication networks created will be safe and secure?

All these questions will need to be addressed before we can successfully achieve the dream of car-to-car communication for autonomous vehicles.

The Spirent team has recently joined the CAR2CAR Communication Consortium to help partners of this project test all kinds of possible scenarios, advancing research in this important area.


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