The history and lore of mapmakers can still capture our imaginations: to see what’s never been seen before, to write down and report back details of our world—the pull is hard to resist, and though the days of setting off on an expedition to, say, the never-before-traveled Arctic are long gone, there remains much about our world yet to be mapped.
Take, for instance, cities. From a static map, we know where all the streets are located, all the buildings, even all of the one-way streets and other anomalies. But while a place like New York City has been intricately mapped for centuries, technology has added more layers—layers which give us a richer picture of our streets. Now, with Google Maps and similar apps and programs, we have real-time traffic information, accident reports, and roadwork details at our fingertips. As navigation becomes ever-more detailed and real-time, and as vehicles become increasingly self-reliant—and move towards driverless technology—cars will not only be able to handle all the tasks related to driving, they will be able to assess, and report, conditions they encounter on the road.
The Future of Self-driving Cars and Navigation
CNET reports that Floris van de Klashorst, vice president of connected driving experiences at HERE—the exciting new mapping technology all the big players in the auto industry can’t stop buzzing about—said recently, “In the future, self-driving cars will not just be navigating cities, but helping to run them.”
We’ve talked about why HERE mapping technology is such a big deal: “The main draw of HERE’s mapping prowess isn’t navigation as we know it, but rather the potential for a leg up on the competition for driverless vehicles.” Accurate, detailed navigation is crucial to the success of driverless vehicles. Driverless vehicles need precise details about all of the fixed objects in the world they’re traveling through—exact to the centimeter—so that they can focus on the unexpected: cars traveling near them, a dog running into the road, weather events, pedestrians.
As we reported, several major automakers teamed up to purchase HERE: BMW, Mercedes, and Audi (beating out the likes of Uber and Google). This collaboration is key, according to van de Klashorst: “As the vehicles trundle around cities and up and down motorways, they will gather data not just about traffic, but about everything they encounter en route. Collectively, they will form an intelligent swarm, talking to each other for the purposes of navigation, but also reporting back to a central hub to help build up a picture of what’s happening.”
Not only will minute-by-minute communication need to be a team effort (or at least a collaboration among friendly parties), but some in the auto industry believe that for driverless vehicles to succeed at all, every car will need to report data to build a living, breathing map. CNET reports: “A BMW vehicle driving the same road in Germany every day does not collect enough data for a self-driving car. Instead, they say, many different types of vehicles must report data continuously for driverless technology to work.
What Does This All Mean for Our Roads?
CNET says that, “Making cars part of the infrastructure of connected cities will allow transportation administrators to help a city adapt to what is happening within it. Take, for example, the ability to change traffic lights to let ambulances through.”
So while, for now, we will continue to see Google, Uber, and Apple cars with their cameras driving the streets collecting data, the future will most likely look a lot subtler, and will relay a lot more information much more quickly— think an entire hive working together, rather than a single bee buzzing around, taking in the world.