Why self-driving car challenges need human solutions

Many people - including myself - are waiting for the day when self-driving vehicles (SDVs) hit the streets. We will have to be patient, SDVs are not just around the corner – but we can see them on the not-too-distant horizon. True, there are vehicles for sale today which can drive autonomously in some circumstances, using onboard sensors, computers and some really smart algorithms. But in order to progress to a fully-automated transport sector, there are a great number of challenges to resolve and standards to be determined.

Why self-driving car challenges need human solutions

Teaching self-driving cars to communicate

The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) organization is a bright spot on the horizon of SDVs. 5GAA is bringing together leading ICT companies, telecom operators and automakers to set the standards for how self-driving vehicles communicate with each other and their environment.

For a human driver, making a left hand turn or stopping at an intersection comes as second nature. But for self-driving vehicles, seemingly easy tasks are extremely complex to design. We at Ericsson are proud to be a part of solving those puzzles as part of the 5GAA cross-industry effort.

Building an SDV ecosystem in Boston

Another spot to watch on the SDV horizon is Boston, where the World Economic Forum (WEF) has created a consortium of companies including Ericsson, to work alongside academics and the public sector. Their collective goal is to create a roadmap for three different self-driving vehicle scenarios: highway truck platoon, on-demand autopilot, and robo-taxis.

A few weeks back, I visited Boston to catch up on the latest developments. I found that in less than a year's time, the pilot vehicle has been selected and designed, and now tech startup nuTonomy (an MIT spinoff) is trialing its first self-driving vehicles in the city.

When I talk to people about connected transport, I always stress the fact that it will require a truly diverse ecosystem of players. The task of teaching cars to drive, communicate and make money needs specialized knowledge and experience.

The WEF project has experts from established players like Ericsson and GM working alongside relative newcomers like Lyft and Uber. This type of collaboration is the way of the future, and WEF provides a great working model.

The human aspect of self-driving car challenges

Along with details for new commercial models and standards for data sharing, the WEF is also looking at the human impact of SDVs. Autonomous transport will reshape our cities and provide all citizens with safer, more efficient and more eco-friendly transport.

It seemed to me that the officials in Boston are looking forward to automated transport. This is reflected in their urban planning for a future where SDVs will impact more than just transport, but sectors like health care, commerce and logistics as well.

"What about the individual?,” you might ask. Do we really want self-driving vehicles on our roads? In a recent study, Ericsson ConsumerLab surveyed people's opinions on SDV.

Read the Ericsson ConsumerLab report on our self-driving future


Their findings: People who love driving their cars (predominantly middle aged) were not too eager to change. The most positive, younger pedestrians who look forward to safer less polluted city.

We must answer the challenge

When I meet people at conferences, or visit associations like WEF and 5GAA, the sheer scale and complexity of tasks sometimes feels overwhelming. I wonder if the engineers working on the Apollo program 50 years ago felt the same way?

The difference is, this time there is no NASA to keep the project together. Today, we as industries have to cross-collaborate to reach our collective goal – a better, safer, more efficient, less polluted society.

If you would like to hear more about these topics, please join me in Gothenburg at The Telematics Valley International Conference 2017. On Tuesday Sep 5, I will chair the session Enabling Autonomous Driving and Connected Vehicles. I hope to see you there.

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