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Autonomous Automobiles: The Ultimate Electrical Reliability Challenge

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  • News of autonomous automobiles is popping up everywhere, but we are a long way off from such technology, as there are reliability challenges with autonomous automobiles. Truly autonomous vehicles will not arrive for decades.
     
    There are articles about autonomous vehicles in use in Singapore, and Ford planning to ship a vehicle in less than five years, but the Singapore vehicle only travels on a specific road and has a human driver sitting by to back it up. Ford's effort is similar. These vehicles are not truly autonomous.
     
    A truly autonomous vehicle would be able to drive in all situations a human would – and not have a human backup. As an example, it could take you from Utica, New York to downtown Manhattan in the winter, through rain, snow, sleet, ice and handle construction detours and traffic police. All of these situations that a normal human would easily handle are a considerable challenge to current and future hardware and software. 
     
    Except for the space program, there has never been a greater demand for reliability. Can you imagine the crisis of being in a 4,000-pound car, heading down Route 81 at 65 miles per hour, and having an electronic fail? Yikes!
     
    There will be unequal demands for reliability from the auto electronics industry. Undoubtedly, those of us in electronic assembly materials will share in this mission. I expect some electronic systems may require redundancy, again as the space program does. There are software demands and considerations too. This field is out of my expertise, but I think the challenges are even greater. Most of us experience software reboot requirements on a regular basis, from our smartphones and laptops. Software hiccups are much more common than hardware issues, in my experience.
     
    Are there other issues? Government approval, GPS reliability, internet connectivity, I am sure there are a few others I am unaware of. I don't feel qualified to make a prediction on when we will see fully autonomous vehicles, but the Scientific American article I quote in my blog posts suggest 2045 at the earliest. I think the challenges will become more evident in the early efforts, such as in Singapore, that are going on now.
     
    In considering how difficult it is to develop the fully autonomous auto helps us to appreciate the truly amazing capabilities of humans. Email me at rlasky@indium.com or visit my blog or the Indium website at www.indium.com for more information.
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