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Web access won't mean easier tweeting from the driver's seat but it will mean that cars are safer to drive as vehicles communicate with each other to avoid potential collisions.
One of the key technologies that will enable truly autonomous driving, vehicle-to-vehicle communication is expected to be a standard feature on 60 percent of new cars by 2025 according to the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Using a dedicated band of the wifi spectrum, c2c (Car 2 Car) enables the flow of information between vehicles, and a number of car makers including Ford, BMW and Volvo have been showcasing the technology and its applications in recent months.
Chief among these is the ability of one car, broken down on a bend, to alert other vehicles of its presence, therefore mitigating an accident. Other uses include warning cars that driving conditions are about to change, whether that change is due to congestion or because of meteorological conditions black ice for example.
But as well as speaking to other cars, c2c has the potential to put traffic infrastructure online be it traffic lights, road signage or even the emergency services. "Through vehicle-to-vehicle communication, cars will be able to travel in closer proximity at faster speeds, as well as automatically reroute to avoid hazardous weather conditions or congested roadways," said Christoph Stiller, IEEE member and professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. "Because of these features, human error will nearly be removed from driving, therefore making it a safer and more enjoyable experience."
However, there is a risk that as cars become connected they become targets for hackers and cyber criminals.
"Hackers could potentially have the ability to affect audio features, disable the vehicle's ignition, override braking systems and infect the software with Trojans and viruses," said Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior Member and professor of Computing and Engineering at the University of Ulster, UK. "In order to combat this, manufacturers need to begin setting firewalls in place to restrict access from integrated systems. There is a strong presence of inter-connectivity between vehicle networks, so a breach in one network may cause havoc in another."
Still, the IEEE is confident that widespread adoption of the connected car will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on drivers' and their passengers' lives and that the technology will be crucial in ushering in the age of the autonomous vehicle where even the driver becomes a passenger.
"Trust in automated technology systems is the key to widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles," said Alberto Broggi, IEEE Senior Member and professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy. "It's amazing to think that just six years ago, smartphones did not exist and now people cannot live without them. This dependence that consumers have acquired will be the catalyst for autonomous vehicles, leading people to trust in automated technology. Within the next five years, lanes will be dedicated for the specific use of autonomous vehicles."
As such the IEEE's predicts that by 2040, three quarters of cars on the road will be autonomous, meaning that in the future driving will be a novelty: "People will actually pay to drive cars manually similar to go-carts," says Broggi.