“When you get into a car, it may, indeed, greet you by name and inform you about traffic or present entertainment options for your trip.”
Sentient-Appearing Transportation Systems
At first the thought of a transportation system that talks to us and is seemingly autonomous while we are inside can seem somewhat scary. But it makes more sense when you think of this future system as an expansion of the apps, services, and transportation vehicles that we are already using.
Today we get a reminder on our phone about our next meeting. We then are informed of the quickest route to the appointment based on traffic congestion. Travel apps help us plan trips, give us regular updates on the status of our flights, find hotel deals, and locate restaurants along the route or near our destination according to type of food and price. Also today, when we receive an email referencing a future date or time, it is highlighted and a click automatically pulls up our calendar to add the event.
If we have a phone that synchronizes with a car system such as OnStar, we already have the option to push buttons on the steering wheel or use audible commands to make and answer calls, play music from our stored library, or ask questions of our digital assistant. If we are not sure of a location, a GPS voice from our car speaker will guide us turn by turn to the building.
Now consider more advanced travel systems of the future that will sync and coordinate your schedule, personal travel apps, vehicle systems, traffic control schemes, and artificial intelligence related to your trip.
Travel apps and personal digital assistants will become our travel agents, authorized to plan and purchase flights, hotel rooms, and make dinner reservations. The AI system will know your schedule and your preferences, such as aisle seats and Thai food. It will also be monitoring everyone else’s preferences and changes in travel plans, which will give you more flexibility if you need to make a change to find a cheaper fare or better route. Artificial intelligence systems will listen to our conversations and develop travel plans on the fly.
This could be very useful in meetings. As soon as you end the meeting, your travel app could show you options for the cheapest, fastest, or most environmentally friendly choice to get to that new appointment next month. And since you have authorized the app as your travel avatar, all the bookings are made with a voice command. You choose something, and the system will have the appropriate modes of transportation ready for you at the appointed time—all the way to and from the destination.
Your future travel app may also communicate regularly with other AI systems to make your trip more convenient, personalized, and safe. For instance, the app may have received a communication from your doctor’s AI that you have broken a bone in your right foot and travel plans must accommodate a cast.
When you get into a car, it may, indeed, greet you by name and inform you about traffic or present entertainment options for your trip. Future vehicles will have access to the same technology that buildings support today with facial-recognition software and other sensors and programs for identification.
With advanced technology, the car may be able to turn the inside of the vehicle into a holographic entertainment platform, which passengers will be free to enjoy without concern for driving. Not only that, but if we were also able to tune in to the communications going on between the vehicle and the world, we would suddenly realize how talkative our future vehicles have become.
Today, traffic engineers talk about “V2X,” which stands for “vehicle to everything.” It is the expectation that vehicles of the future will be “talking” to just about everything.
Here’s a partial list:
• V2I—Vehicle-to-Infrastructure. The car is going to be talking to traffic lights and crosswalks. Parking spaces may be broadcasting their availability and guiding cars to them. Drivers may get information on traffic and weather conditions. AI and remote operators may also control your car when you are not there. The car may drop you off at the restaurant door and then find the nearest parking space or move to another user or find a place to charge while you eat.
V2V—Vehicle-to-Vehicle. Vehicles are going to be talking to each other to avoid collisions and integrate into traffic. They may search for a platoon of vehicles going in the same direction, or to the same destination. V2V will allow the vehicles to flow in traffic with minimal space between them, saving energy. Vehicle information sharing and coordination should result in the near elimination of accidents, reduced travel times, and the disappearance of a thing once known as the traffic jam.
V2G—Vehicle-to-Grid. The car will be exchanging information with the power grid to determine the best time and location to recharge the battery, determined by cost, strain on the grid, and availability of charging stations. Vehicles will also be able to discharge power to the grid and assist in grid stability and support, and the utility will purchase the power.
V2H—Vehicle-to-Home. One of our colleagues, Dave Tuttle, wrote part of his PhD thesis on the vehicle-to-home connections that would enable vehicles to power a home during grid outages. In Japan, Nissan passed out power cords after their nuclear accident to allow homeowners to get power from their cars. And there is a utility truck on the market that will power homes while repairs are being made to the grid.
V2P—Vehicle-to-Pedestrian. Communicating to pedestrians for safety from the approaching vehicle.
The sophisticated communication and sensing array in a future vehicle will also be providing real-time and recorded history of events. In a criminal investigation, the video from cameras mounted on nearby buildings is often checked. Future investigations may start pulling additional information from nearby parked or passing cars. There will be different levels of AI in the transportation system, and you will only interact with some of them, like booking agents, and car systems. AI traffic-control systems will control the vehicles, including yours, as you move about your day. The vision traffic engineers have of a rapid, smoothly flowing city of vehicles will only work if you give up control of your car.
Which brings us to an uncomfortable discussion. We will be moving about inside robots. We may cringe at the thought of being inside a robot, but that is because of our image of a robot. In fact, we already are transported from place to place inside steel boxes not in our control, and consider it quite normal. Whenever we step into an elevator, we are whisked up in the air in an electronically controlled steel container. But it is a short trip and we have gotten used to it as normal. Nonetheless, for anyone who has been trapped in an elevator when the electricity went out, the reality of your situation becomes terrifying.
We also have become used to being moved from one airport terminal to another on driverless train pods. And major cities move thousands of people every day with driverless subway and light rail systems.
But we are not used to losing control of our car. We are not used to our car being able to go wherever an automated driving system, either onboard or remotely controlled, tells the vehicle to go. And in that sense, suddenly the car seems to have a mind of its own.
But we are starting to adjust to that, as well. In fact, one problem emerging is drivers falling asleep or otherwise no longer engaged with the car. Yet most people are still not ready to consider boarding a pilotless airplane.