This is our second post in a row regarding autonomous vehicles, otherwise referred to as driverless cars. As we noted last week, driverless cars are no longer an idea of the future or science-fiction. Very soon they will become every commuter’s reality. Several major car companies such as Ford, Volvo, and Toyota have announced that their autonomous vehicles will be available to the mass market within five years. The belief among manufacturers is that autonomous vehicles will reduce traffic congestion, create efficiency, increase safety and save consumers money (i.e. time and fuel).

Simultaneously with the development of autonomous cars – and, in fact, fueling that development –the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to evolve rapidly. Everyday objects increasingly have network connectivity enabling them to send and receive data. The goal of the IoT is to make these everyday objects “smart.” Devices gather data and the “cloud” – which is just a descriptor for Internet-based applications – provides secure (hopefully) and intelligent infrastructure to hold all the gathered data and enable access and sharing across various types of devices, including cars. Currently, driver-enabled cars increasingly include Internet connectivity. But as the development of driverless cars progresses, the network connectivity will spread beyond the vehicle to the environment around it. This will bring the IoT and autonomous cars to life on a large scale.

As autonomous vehicles and objects involved the normal driving experience are embedded with IoT data gathering and sharing technologies, a new interactive driving experience will emerge. This interactive driving will consist of “the road” communicating with the vehicle as it moves. Smart traffic signs and signals will communicate traffic regulators and directions to the vehicle. Smart attractions and restaurants will also communicate entertainment or meal options to the passenger. Autonomous vehicles will communicate with each other as to the traffic and road conditions, and how they are driving in relation to each other.

The move towards the IoT will promote a safer driving experience because the car is in control of itself and it is directly communicating with the on-going traffic and its environment, which takes away the chance of human error. Consumers who have self-driving vehicles powered by the IoT will enjoy the freedom to receive phone calls, send instant messages or scroll through their social media without worrying about how they are driving. In addition to the rate of auto-collisions decreasing, an IoT powered car will transform the traditional driving experience, which requires significant attention, care and time. Road trips with family members will be a time for games and bonding. All passengers can take a nap during the ride. Searching for parking spaces will be the vehicle’s job. All of these benefits open up time for consumers to have more productive or relaxing hours during the day.

Federal and state governments are embracing the idea of integrating the IoT with self-driving vehicles and cities through the national Smart City initiative. The White House released a statement pledging an investment of $160 million in federal research and technology collaborations to improve the technologies in cities, and to create a test bed for the development and deployment of the IoT. Atlanta, Georgia will be one of the first cities to experience the new IoT interactive driving experience. The city government wants to build a separate roadway for autonomous vehicles which will have sensor embedded traffic lights, cameras, road sensors and parking meters so these objects can communicate with each other and vehicles on the road. IBM has accommodated the idea of self-driving vehicles being integrated with the IoT, by creating Olli, a self-driving vehicle, which includes the IoT to enhance the passenger experience and allow interaction with the vehicle.

With new technology comes a host of new legal issues and concerns such as: (1) traditional vehicles operating in an increasingly driver-less environment; (2) prevention of the IoT being hacked by cyber-criminals; (3) security features for every device that has an IoT sensor; (4) insurance claims in driverless vehicle collisions; and, (5) the chances of a driverless vehicle experiencing a glitch. These are cutting edge concerns that will need to be addressed as this area of technology develops. Autonomous vehicles are coming, and the technology is merging and being “driven” by the IoT. And it’s coming sooner than you think.