Speaking In Autonomous Tongues.

It’s a well known fact that I have no interest in autonomous cars but I accept that, one day, probably sooner than we think, they will be a fact of life and that the killjoys and the dull grey suits of government will have won.

As the car manufacturers march towards more and more automotive autonomy – whether we want it or not – there’s a slight snag. In fact there are many snags, some not yet realised, and this is just one of them.

Put simply, if one British-made car could talk to another British-made car, what would you get? A conversation that only any car that spoke English could understand. So what happens when a British-made car wants to talk to a Spanish-made car? Does it just speak more loudly and crassly like some holiday lout?

In the same way that service in restaurants worldwide would be if not better but easier if we all spoke a universal language so, in order to prevent cars from crashing into one another, clearly they must speak a common language.

The quest for connected cars that speak a common language across a Wi-Fi network has brought an unprecedented level of collaboration amongst car makers which is not something that comes naturally to them. Nevertheless, without this universal participation any inter-car connectivity will be useless.

There is something called Dedicated Short-Range Communication which works as the name suggests. Connected vehicles make use of this DSRC technology, while automated vehicles do not require these systems to function. Automated vehicles rely on lidar, video cameras, and on-board sensors and the like to gather information about surroundings and sense potential threats. Ultimately the systems must totally combine for cars to be truly and fully autonomous. This will surely take a few years to regulate and refine the standards and finally figure out how to protect the cars on our roads from us, each other and, worryingly, from villainous hackers, snoopers and, yes, terrorists.

This shared responsibility is critical and to be fair, for the industry there is probably no other way. So the road to mutual connectivity is still littered with on-going challenges. There’s a brave new world of smart kit out there all sharing the same virtual space and they have to be kept separate. No doubt the solutions are coming so expect all new cars in the next few years to be chatting away without the difficulties of a language barrier. Which is more than many human drivers, like the archetypal tourist visiting foreign lands, can manage.

Geoff Maxted