Thursday, 25 April 2019

Autonomous Automobiles & Its Implications

Henry Ford did not foresee the traffic jam we see today in nearly all the roads across the globe especially in metro cities such as New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many others. It is actually considered norm rather than an exception. In my humble opinion, technology with so many jargons has unexpected consequences. It is often well worth the trouble of trying to figure them out ahead of time. This is exactly the way we started the industrial revolution of the mid 20th century and it has never stopped.

The system engineers who built IP routing for the fledgling DARPANET in 1969 (For Purpose of Protecting US against any Nuclear attack during the cold war) never dreamed that networking technology would drive such massive innovation in the entire globe. Nor did anyone guess that cellular communication would make people ignore one another at the dinner table which has become a trend and old way of communications without smartphones which people look at it once every 5 minutes on the average has impacted our social and interpersonal skills. Early users of email had no idea of spam, fishing, malware, ransom and many other end point hacking. Otherwise, they would have built the capabilities at the start of design compared to today’s band-aid solution.

At the moment, the latest technology buzzword is the self-driving car or what I call Autonomous cars. Are there any likely unintended consequences of the widespread adoption of self-driving cars? I am 100% sure there is and it would be big & many are unknown at the current time. There are major also difficulties to overcome in order to feel comfortable enough to give the control to the car and let auto pilot drive the automobile feeling comfortable with both reliability and safety.

Many more difficulties will most likely emerge months or perhaps years after the initial introduction of autonomous cars in the marketplace. Before then, system engineers & researchers have a great deal of work ahead of them to make the cars safer, feature capable, reliable, safe and more foolproof in order to convince DC regulators & public safety organizations to allow them onto busy roads we deal with every day across the globe.

These objectives are going to take longer than many proponents of autonomous driving realize or are prepared to admit and in my humble opinion, a massive education is needed across the globe which auto manufacturers are ignoring & will create a major gap which would be difficult to close, causing loss of revenue for years to come. In essence, the technology may be moving faster than what customers can adopt and it is a gap one can not ignore at the start of such massive innovation even bigger than industrial revolution of the 20th century. One example we can address is airplanes.

Airplanes have auto pilot too so question some people ask is what is the difference? The major difference is at 30-40K feet above the earth, the spacing between airplanes is large enough that the risk can be easily tolerated (1-2 Miles spacing in both vertical and horizontal axis) & finally, FAA is the organization preventing such accidents with thousands of planes in the air (Not an Easy Task). The main question is similar to FAA, which organization is going to manage autonomous cars in busy roads and highways in order to prevent any unintended accidents. I doubt there is any identified now or they may not be necessary and only time will tell. Pilots use the feature often especially on the long flight but then the 3 pilots are always in the cabin so the entire take off and landing is not fully automated even with flying applications.

One can not even think of doing such task on busy roads or highways with thousands of automobiles & understanding each driver may have different skills sets and human complexities as part of the daily driving across the globe. Some of the basic complexities include applications such as texting while driving, DUI or medical factors for the driver to consider. so, in essence, it is far more complex and complicated than people ever think at the moment. But, I am very confident it will be solved in due time except we need to optimize our expectation and go with the flow of innovation till the autonomous car is fully introduced in the marketplace.

We will eventually get to fully self-driving cars, but my concern is that during trial deployments we will run into many unexpected consequences (We have seen this already) that will delay mass deployment for many years to come. As a system engineer and researcher, I have made it my business to imagine and visualize how automation will work in certain environments and situations & proven it to be the case in my major transformation in biggest IP company on the planet.

The concept of the autonomous application is nothing new and I can refer to a system I built in major Telecommunications called FASTAR (FAST AUTOMATED RESTORATION). FASTAR was designed to take control of any layer 1 fiber optic cable cut and let the system control entire restoration in seconds without any human being engaged. Before FASTAR, the actual splicing of fiber optic cable when cutting on end to end time basis was running for 12-14 hours and using FASTAR, we cut the time to minutes and seconds all automated at layer 1 fiber optic environment.

FASTER Research To Deployment (R2D) took 3 years to complete but for autonomous cars, it will be 1-2 decades given we are dealing with human lives and we should take all the time we need to do it right, do it once and then use it everywhere. I had called this Concept of one –

In my humble opinion, implementation of self-driving cars will take at least a decade if not longer and we need to truly set our expectation right or we feel either ignored or not understanding what must happen to make the vision reality. In addition, any vision or hope without true execution is hallucination period.

In order to build a fully autonomous car (NO HUMAN TOUCH or Concept of Zero – which may be the holy grail of innovation in this decade and next, there are 6 divisions of innovation which one need to consider to deliver flawless autonomous cars with safety and reliability second to none. The 6 divisions are:

Divison 1: Driver controls everything in the car.

Division 2: There will be some automation done by the car.

Division 3: Drives at this stage deals with the car with hands off any part of the car.

Division 4: Car Driver starts to use certain traffic environmental.

Division 5: Fully autonomous vehicle perform under any weather conditions.

Division 6: Fully autonomous vehicle start using Concept of Zero (NO HUMAN TOUCH) – I will explain more on this concept below.

If we stay away from using AI/ML/Deep Learning/IoE and structured semantics, we can deliver our ultimate objective within 1-2 decades at best based on my personal gut feeling.

Lastly, I am hopeful system engineers & researchers of such system take security in the beginning of the design versus after-fact which is the major reason cyber hacking has increased in size and impact big time over the past decade or so. The current cyber solution is more of the band-aid than the real solution and no one has been able to build a silver bullet to solve because not only this is an elusive problem but hackers change their method of attack, causing, even more, KAOS for CXOs in every company worldwide. It is more of chicken and egg game which I do not believe will have an ending in any near term.

In addition, as I alluded before, there is absolutely no silver bullet for cyber hacking at the moment and I will write one big blog to educate public on entire cyber hacking so any new design can be done flawlessly across the globe. It feels like being in the Pacific Ocean looking for a needle which is nearly impossible to find and I doubt any solution is underway to solve cyber hacking in near term.

Even in USA and Affordable Healthcare Act which started in 2010 for its implementation, security was second thought and now we are dealing with a system with so much personal & Medical information which is very scary especially with HIPPA rules and regulations. I just hope we use the experience of cyber hacking and use it to prevent any such attack in the future for consumers and businesses worldwide.

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