The future of transportation is written. If you’ve been living in a cave or festering on a remote desert island like some modern-day Robinson Crusoe tribute act up until today, then firstly, well done on your return to civilisation. Secondly, you may be the only person on the planet to not have read about how cars have become so smart that they don’t even need people to be anywhere near them to get from A to B.
Yes, it seems that in the AI utopia of tomorrow, humans can’t even be trusted to drive to work of their own accord, and Google is one of many manufacturers keen to take the slack away from drivers and allow their technology to whisk us with ease to our destinations. Expertly allowing more time for us to sit back and play with the latest Snapchat filters in the process.
Early tests on autonomous vehicles have had somewhat mixed results; with self-driving cars being put through their paces around the world from a number of manufacturers before the tragic death of an Arizona pedestrian caused by a driverless motor put a stop to many trials.
But while ‘autonomy’ is the word on everyone’s lips with the pace-gathering hype of driverless cars approaching fever pitch, another breakthrough is occurring in the automotive industry that’s largely gone unnoticed.
In May 2015, the motoring news focused on Google’s plans to start road testing their two-seater ‘pods’ (as referred to by The Guardian on the 15th) or ‘bubble cars’ (as labelled by MIT Technology Review on the 18th). But what failed to cause a stir was the start of Jaguar Land Rover’s collaboration with Warwick Manufacturing Group on the world’s first self-learning car.
While at first glance, in light of the latest developments that Silicon Valley hurl our way on a weekly basis in terms of how ready the autonomous car is for mass production, the prospect of a smart car that still features human drivers seems paradoxical in the innovation stakes. After all, the future is driverless cars (and so says the 4,120,000 results that Google returns for a search on that exact phrase). But a glance through the capabilities of the self-learning car points to a bright and practical future.
Firstly, Land Rover has stated that its self-learning car has a very sensible aim: “to reduce driver distraction and take the chore out of driving.” This immediately appeals to a growing and immediate problem on roads worldwide today – modern technology has led to unprecedented levels of distractions for drivers today. But how is the project choosing to tackle this?
The self-learning car works by learning its drivers’ habits and identifies who’s in control of the motor by their phone or key fob. After around two weeks of usage, a dedicated algorithm learns and improves automated functions that anticipate the actions of the individual in the driver’s seat. If the car has observed the user listening to a particular radio station in the mornings but has found that listening habits change to a CD in the afternoon, then the motor will anticipate this trend by undertaking the action without prompt or instruction, allowing the user to maintain maximum focus on the roads.
Notable other services that the algorithm can anticipate are predictive massage seats, automatic media source selection and an intelligent phone reminder – just to make sure nobody enters the car without their essentials.
The concept of the self-learning car has also been explored and showcased by Faurecia, a leading French automobile interiors company, in their masterpiece ‘The Cockpit of The Future’ – which was entered into 2016’s Mondial de l’Automobile exhibition in Paris.
Faurecia’s approach to self-learning involves pre-conditioning the occupants’ desired temperature for their desired departure time, and learning the driver’s ideal seating position and mirror angles, which can be predictably applied before the user enters the car. Faurecia utilises CloudMade’s predictive learning system to anticipate a driver’s comfort level and automatically adjusting seating settings and lumbar support accordingly.
While publications like Wired have described self-driving cars as an ‘inevitability’, we could yet see the seamless experience that self-learning cars offer drivers evolve to hog the limelight for many years to come. The future of transportation is nearly upon us – and it’s looking like child’s play.
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Author: Dmytro Spilka