One of the promises of self-driving vehicles is that they will ultimately improve road safety by removing the human element from most driving-related decisions and replacing it with decisions arrived at by the vehicle itself. These decisions are made based on data gathered from a vehicle’s onboard sensors and then processed and analyzed in less time than it takes to blink an eye. In light of recent events in Arizona, in which a pedestrian was struck and killed by an autonomous vehicle operated by Uber, www.uber.com, the industry is left in the lurch. While the Uber investigation is still underway and early reports suggest Uber’s technology is not at fault, a fatality looks more than bad on autonomous vehicles’ record.
Uber is just one company testing its self-driving car technology in the greater Phoenix area. Waymo, www.waymo.com, formerly the Google Self-Driving Car project, has been developing and testing autonomous-vehicle technology since 2009. As of the end of November last year, Waymo says it has operated vehicles in autonomous mode on public roads for more than 4 million miles across at least 20 U.S. cities. But 4 million test miles isn’t enough, and Waymo’s recently launched early rider program—essentially a public trial—allows Phoenix residents to hail robotic minivans for their cross-town journeys. There is no word yet as to whether the company will halt or alter its program as a result of the fatal accident involving an Uber autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian.
To create a better-than-human autonomous chauffer, since 2009, Waymo has uploaded test miles to the cloud and shared the data across its autonomous fleet as part of the endless quest to inform the artificial intelligence making life-or-death decisions behind the wheel. Someday, autonomous vehicles will rule the road, and each vehicle will constantly collect this type of data, which could potentially be used to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion along passengers’ routes. The age of quantum computing may help usher in this new era of driverless vehicles that make split-second decisions based on a wealth of data from the vehicles themselves, the surrounding infrastructure and environment, and other vehicles to optimize their routes.
Quantum computers take a new approach to processing information compared to classic computers, because they are built on the principles of quantum mechanics. According to IBM, www.ibm.com, quantum computing can run new types of algorithms that process information more holistically, which may one day lead to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the optimization of complex manmade systems, and beyond. Transportation is one such complex manmade system that is expected to benefit from quantum computing. Already, companies like Volkswagen, www.volkswagen.com, and its partners are working toward applying quantum computing to optimize traffic flow and solve one of the most pressing painpoints in modern human life: traffic congestion.
While Volkswagen’s test leveraged data from taxis driven by humans in order to simulate the most optimum routes in a busy urban environment, in the future, autonomous vehicles equipped with myriad sensors and artificial intelligence will collect this data and more. What use cases will be enabled by this data and quantum computing remains to be seen, but it will likely go a long way toward improving both the safety and efficiency of autonomous driving.
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