Make autonomous driving safer

Self-driving cars run into problems due to the poor recognition of obstacles by the on-board cameras. Radar causes different problems and even the combination of these two techniques prove suboptimal. But there might be a third way to make autonomous and even human driving safer.

This is another blogpost „beyond banking“ and I wrote it in English because my target audience is Teslas Elon Musk, Googles/Alphabets Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Ubers Travis Kalanick and the like. But I wouldn’t mind German carmakers like BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen Group catching up on self-driving cars. We have seen interesting developments in Germany lately.

Being interested in cars and digitization – even beyond FinTech – I came across two well known phenomena.First: self-driving cars are not perfect, yet. The main problem seems to be the poor recognition of objects by the on-board cameras, due to weather or other special conditions. Fog and rain worsens the camera-recognition as well as a white truck in front of a cloudy-white sky. The latter caused a severe accident with a Tesla in the US. The company responded by combining the cameras with a radar system to avoid crashes like that in the future. But using radar comes with another set of problems.
Apart from those life-threatening issues, the recognition of other vehicles and road signs is affected by conditions like rain, snow, fog etc.

Second: thanks to the exponential growth of the computer industry, microchips are rapidly becoming smaller and cheaper. The Internet of Things (IoT) is right around the corner, meaning everything – from plants to dolls to shoes – will come with an implemented chip. And all these „things“ are going to communicate with one another via these dirt cheap microchips.
These two facts got me thinking: why not combine communicating microchips with road signs. And let vehicles communicate amongst themselves via chips using open systems.
No matter the weather condition, a solar-powered chip would send the road sign or traffic light information to every vehicle in its periphery. Together with the on-board cameras this would massively enhance the accuracy of the information, letting the car or driver know what to do. Because microchips are extremely cheap, it should not be a problem to equip new signs with a chip and even to upgrade existing signs.

To prevent life-threatening situations like the one with Tesla and the white truck, every vehicle should have implemented a chip sending its size, direction and speed. This not only would have stopped the car speeding into the truck. It would also prevent accidents at the end of traffic jams. Neither cameras nor radar are able to „see“ beyond the crest of a hill or around corners. If the self-driving car receives the information of very slow cars in its proximity, it could automatically decelerate. Even for human-driven vehicles this information can be life-saving, by warning the driver or decelerating. This also should prove to be cheap. Put a chip in every new car or just pin it on the dashboard of existing cars and combine it with the existing security features. Apps like Waze already use a similar system to bypass traffic jams, using the information of Smartphones. Why not improve this by using the metrics of all cars instead of just the metrics of Smartphones running a specific App?

I am no engineer, so my thoughts might be an oversimplification. But I am looking forward to discussing it – leave a comment.