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Silicon Valley’s endeavor to make self-driving cars accessible to the public is a pretty terrific ambition, but it’ll be a long time before most people can afford these vehicles of tomorrow.
And what about cars already on the road?
There are an estimated 255.8 million registered cars in the U.S alone and 1.2 billion across the world. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has predicted it could take 20 years for self-driving vehicles to replace regular ones.
So what can we do now?
Most companies experimenting with autonomy today depend on a technology called LIDAR to transmit data about the world to their vehicles. If you’ve seen a self-driving Uber, you’ve probably noticed LIDAR. The equipment looks like a dome on top of the car.
LIDAR works by shining lasers on an object and measuring the time it takes for the light to bounce back. It’s basically a replication of the human eye which offers only a minor improvement over a human’s reaction time. A nice feature to have, yes, but there is so much more we could do with intelligent vehicles.
LIDAR limits vehicles to sensing objects immediately in front, in back and to the sides. That’s not very revolutionary.
To truly modernize transportation, the vehicle of tomorrow must understand and optimize itself to the environment down the road, such as a traffic jam three miles ahead. With LIDAR, you would head straight for it.
Wouldn’t it be better to avoid traffic altogether?
There are a million other problems with today’s vehicles that could be solved by analyzing data.
For instance, the vehicle of tomorrow should be able to tell you exactly what is wrong with it.
We’ve all been there: some random orange light on the dashboard flashes as you struggle to find the manual or look hopelessly online for an explanation. Surely, the vehicle of tomorrow should be able to converse with you about the engine problem and help you set up an appointment with the closest mechanic.
And what about using data collected from hundreds of vehicles across a city to identify pot holes, unsafe intersections or frequent model malfunctions that may indicate the need for a manufacturer recall?
Here’s the bottom line: the vehicle of tomorrow should be an operating system on wheels.
Cars should combine sophisticated artificial intelligence with big data to truly enhance the driving experience. This technology should enable a hive of vehicles communicating in real-time on the road to increase efficiency and safety. And the system should calibrate to the needs of vehicle owners and passengers.
What if I told you that we not only must do better than LIDAR in the cars of the future, but we already have? What if I told you that these solutions could be implemented in 98 percent of today’s car models? What if I told you the intelligent and connected experience could be yours for less than the price of a car alarm?
All of this is possible when Cobalt launches in 2017.