Smart Highways and Driverless Cars Coming in 2030 -- for Real?

Crowds at Mobile World Congress clamored to see in-car infotainment systems that will soon be connected to the Internet via wireless networks around the globe.

Wed, February 26, 2014

Computerworld — BARCELONA -- Crowds at Mobile World Congress here this week clamored to see in-car infotainment systems that will soon be connected to the Internet via wireless networks around the globe.

Even before such in-car systems are rolled out on a massive scale, designers and engineers are already dreaming and worried about next steps in the process of having entire cities operate smart highway grids to handle driverless cars.

Ford, AT&T, General Motors and chipmaker Qualcomm, among others, used the MWC platform to show off in-car systems designed to help car drivers and passengers interact with the outside world, and make them aware of the status of the car's engine and systems.

Qualcomm used a black matte-painted Mercedes Benz CLA45 AMG Turbo to draw attention to its BlackBerry QNX-based concept infotainment system.

With in-car systems clearly on the way, the inevitable question arises: When exactly will we see driverless cars and driverless highway networks?

Several experts asked that question by Computerworld gave wide-ranging and a bit eye-opening answers.

For instance, an AT&T official predicted that smart highways could arrive in some cities in between 10 and 20 years, while engineers at Cisco and GM saw a more gradual rollout of one system at a time in a process that would take several decades.

A top technologist at GM said driverless cars will likely still need human help control cars during snowstorms and over black ice.

Over the next two years, millions of cars on U.S. roads will be equipped with wireless LTE connectivity and in-car dashboard interfaces, the experts noted. But that first step is still far away from the creation and construction of smart highway systems in just one mid-sized U.S. city. Businesses and government must also come up with ways to govern, operate and finance smart highways.

If it sounds challenging to design an OS and apps and wireless connections for running Pandora radio or Netflix movies inside a car, just imagine the complex job of putting network-connected sensors along highways, at traffic lights and near hospitals to wirelessly connect to cars and emergency vehicles to the Internet.

The development of a system to govern smart highways could be huge -- every city council, local police department, state government and several federal agencies will want a say in it.

Timothy Nixon, chief technology officer for the global connected consumer at GM, said he and others at the automaker recognize the the many challenges they face in building driverless cars that can operate over smart highways.

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