Space age navigation for driverless cars

In a fascinating new article, published on 18 September 2020, NASA explained how its laser-based lunar landing technology could be adopted by self-driving cars.

Facing many of the same navigational and hazard avoidance challenges, NASA brought sensors, cameras, algorithms and high-performance computers together under the Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) project.

Considering Mars is approximately 34 million miles from earth, and NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover within a 12×4 mile target area, autonomous vehicle developers would be wise to pay attention.

What’s more, NASA intends to be even more precise in future, with a new variation called Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which detects the movement and velocity of distant objects, as well as a spacecraft’s own motion relative to the ground.

Steve Sandford, former director at NASA’s Langley Research Center and now Chief Technology Officer at Psionic, said: “Doppler lidar’s high resolution can distinguish between objects that are only several inches apart and even at a distance of several hundred feet.” Potentially perfect for detecting, for instance, a pedestrian crossing a road.

For further info, read the original NASA article.

Connected cars: whose data is it anyway?

In a prime example of the potential of connected cars, Volvo recently announced that it will share real-time data with the aim of improving road safety.

Some Volvos already warn each other about local threats such as slippery surfaces or broken down vehicles. The idea is to make this kind of anonymised data available “for the greater good”, as Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, put it.

So far so altruistic, but what about all the other data being collected?

Well, academics at Dartmouth College in the US have been looking at this very issue, particularly in relation to navigational technologies. Lead researcher Professor Luis Alvarez León is in no doubt that decisions should not be left to vehicle manufacturers alone.

In his peer-reviewed article, Counter-Mapping the Spaces of Autonomous Driving, he said: “The race for automated navigation leads automakers to compete over the release of new technical features and new revenue streams, while paying secondary attention to the possible negative externalities for consumers.”

Bill Hanvey, CEO of the Auto Care Association, agrees. Writing in the New York Times, he said: “It is clear, because of its value – as high as $750bn by 2030 – carmakers have no incentive to release control of the data collected from our vehicles.

“Policymakers, however, have the opportunity to give drivers control – not just so that they can keep their data private but also so that they can share it with the people they want to see it.”

Closer to home, Fleet News reported on a KPMG survey showing that just 35% of UK automotive executives expect the driver to have data ownership. So, two thirds expect their companies to take care of it?

From the use of facial recognition software, to insights gathered from voice commands, we need to talk more about personal data in relation to connected cars.