Autonomous Vehicles: Electronic Superhighway Becomes More than a Metaphor

Carl Weinschenk

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are of interest to IT departments because work forces will have to be supported as the amount of work done from these vehicles gradually grows in volume, sophistication and sensitivity.

Like many other elements of modern technology, the ramp-up to autonomous vehicles seems to be accelerating (pun intended). And it seems, at least in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, becoming more of broader central focus as opposed to a one-off new offering.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Cook positions autonomous vehicles as one of three pillars in the new age of autonomous systems. The other two vehicle-related elements are electrification and ride sharing. Cook says that these “vectors of change” are present at about the same time.

The glue will be another high-profile technology, artificial intelligence.


“We sort of look at it as the mother of all AI projects,” he says. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on, actually.”

It’s not surprising that General Motors has its sights set on autonomous vehicles. USA Today looks at the second generation of AVs. GM has built 130 Bolt AVs, which join 50 first-generation Bolt AVs. The story doesn’t make the distinction between the two completely clear, but the sense is that the technology was retrofit onto the earlier Bolts and is integrated deeply into the later models. Among the technologies in use are light detection and ranging (LIDAR), cameras, radar and sensors.

The ride-sharing element to which Cook referred involves companies such as Uber and Lyft. The latter recently secured a $600 million investment from Jaguar, Engadget reports. $25 million of that came from Jaguar Land Rover. The investment is technically coming from Jaguar’s InMotion mobility services business. In addition to the funding, Lyft will get access to a fleet of Jaguars to use in testing.

A reality that hides in plain sight should be recognized about AVs: Though the technology is not perfected, having AVs behind the figurative wheel is already significantly safer than having humans behind the actual wheel. Earlier this month, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that could lead to unmanned AV tests on public roads within two months. Inslee, quoted in The Seattle Times, offered a strong rationale:

“One thing I know about radar, it doesn’t drive drunk, it doesn’t drive distracted,” Inslee said. “We humans are really good at a lot of things, driving cars isn’t necessarily one of them compared to the automated processes that are digital and foolproof. I just have huge confidence in the safety aspects of this.”

Ride sharing, AVs and electrification are a trio of technologies against which a strong case doesn’t exist. The approaches are safe, environmentally friendly and efficient. IT departments should be aware that the AV element of this is coming and that it will affect how they support their organizations.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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