Autonomous vehicles: Three key use cases of advanced analytics shaping the industry

Driven by analytics, the culture of the automobile, including conventional wisdom about how it should be owned and driven is changing. Case in point, take the evolution of the autonomous vehicle. Already, the very notion of what a car is capable of is being radically rethought based on specific analytics use cases, and the definition of the ‘connected car’ is evolving daily.

Vehicles can now analyse information from drivers and passengers to provide insights into driving patterns, touch point preferences, digital service usage, and vehicle condition, in virtually real time. This data can be used for a variety of business-driven objectives, including new product development, preventive and predictive maintenance, optimised marketing, up selling, and making data available to third parties. It’s not only powering the vehicle itself, but completely reshaping the industry.

By using a myriad of sensors to inform decisions traditionally made by human operatives, analytics is completely reprogramming the fundamental areas of driving – perception, decision making and operational information. In this article, we discuss a few of the key analytics-driven use cases that we are likely to see in the future as this category, (ahem) accelerates.

The revolution of driverless vehicles

Of course, in the autonomous vehicle, the major aspect missing is the driver, traditionally the eyes and ears of the journey. Replicating the human functions is one of the major ways in which analytics is shaping the industry. Based on a series of sensors, the vehicle gathers data on nearby objects, like their size and rate of speed and categorises them based on how they are likely to behave. Combined with technology that is able to build a 3D map of the road, it helps it then to form a clear picture of its immediate surroundings.

Now the vehicle can see, but it requires analytics to react and progress accordingly taking into account the other means of transportation in the vicinity, for instance. By using data to understand perception, analytics is creating a larger connected network of vehicles that are able to communicate with each other. In making the technology more and more reliable, self-driving vehicles have the potential to eventually become safer than human drivers and replace those in the not so distant future. In fact, a little over one year ago, two self-driving buses were trialed on the public roads of Helsinki, Finland, alongside traffic and commuters. It was the first trials of its kind with the Easymile EZ-10 electric mini-buses, capable of carrying up to 12 people.

Artificial intelligence driving the innovation and decision making

In the autonomous vehicle, one of the major tasks of a machine learning algorithm is continuous rendering of environment and forecasting the changes that are possible to these surroundings. Indeed, the challenge facing autonomous means of transportation is not so much capturing the world around them, but making sense of it. For example, a car can tell when a pedestrian is ready to cross the street by observing behavior over and over again. Algorithms can sort through what is important, so that the vehicle will not need to push the brakes every time a small bird crosses its path.

That is not say we are about to become obsolete. For the foreseeable future, human judgement is still critical and we’re not at the stage of abandoning complex judgement calls to algorithms. While we are in the process of ‘handing over’ anything that can be automated with some intelligence, complex human judgement is still needed. As times goes on, Artificial (AI) ‘judgement’ will be improved but the balance is delicate – not least because of the clear and obvious concerns over safety.

How can we guarantee road safety?

Staying safe on the road is understandably one of the biggest focuses when it comes to automated means of transportation. A 2017 study by Deloitte found that three-quarters of Americans do not trust autonomous vehicles. Perhaps this is unsurprising as trust in new technology takes time – it took many years before people lost fear of being rocketed through the stratosphere at 500 mph in an aeroplane.

There can, and should, be no limit to the analytics being applied to every aspect of autonomous driving – from the manufacturers, to the technology companies, understanding each granular piece of information is critical. But, it is happening. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are asking people worldwide how they think a robot car should handle such life-or-death decisions. Its goal is not just for better algorithms and ethical tenets to guide autonomous vehicles, but to understand what it will take for society to accept the vehicles and use them.

Another big challenge is determining how long fully automated vehicles must be tested before they can be considered safe. They would need to drive hundreds of millions of miles to acquire enough data to demonstrate their safety in terms of deaths or injuries. That’s according to an April 2016 report from think tank RAND Corp. Although, only this month, a mere 18 months since that report was released, professor Amnon Shashua, Mobileye CEO and Intel senior vice president, announced the company has developed a mathematical formula that reportedly ensures that a "self-driving vehicle operates in a responsible manner and does not cause accidents for which it can be blamed."

Transforming transportation and the future

In many industries, such as retail, banking, aviation, and telecoms, companies have long used the data they gather from customers and their connected devices to improve products and services, develop new offerings, and market more effectively. The automotive industry has not had the frequent digital touch points to be able to do the same. The connected vehicle changes all that.

Data is transforming the way we think about transportation and advanced analytics has the potential to make driving more accessible and safe, by creating new insights to open up new opportunities . As advanced analytics and AI become the new paradigm in transportation, the winners will be those who best interpret the information to create responsive, learning, and connected vehicles capable of making autonomous vehicles as simple as getting from A to B.

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