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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

The Assimilation of Self-driving Cars, One Feature at a Time Lynnette Reese

Just this week, Tesla provided a patch that allowed Model S and X owners to gain new features with an overnight download. (Tesla cars are able to receive wireless “over-the-air” updates that add software-enabled features.) The biggest change besides a new clock and other visual display changes on the 17” touchscreen was that Teslas are one step closer to being self-driving cars. With an overnight update, the cars have a very much upgraded “cruise control.” They will now stay in a lane if you are driving at least 18 mph, even if you aren’t paying attention. It’s meant for highway driving and will not yet brake for stoplights, shoppers, or squirrels, but more is promised. All the driver needs to do is keep at least one finger on the wheel, or the car gets nervous and sends a message to get you to at least touch the wheel or it’s going to glide to a stop and turn the hazard lights on.

How many Tesla owners were on highways the next day, trying out their new Auto Lane Change feature? Flick the turn signal and the car will change lanes autonomously. The lane change feature takes advantage of the fact that lanes have line markings. Cameras are used to track the lines, and if the lines are missing or faint, it can confuse any good self-driving car, so you can count on highway lines to be as important as potholes in the future. The model S and X can now parallel park, too.

Both Audi and Mercedes have similar features already, but Tesla implemented them overnight without any owners driving in to a dealership. It’s no wonder Tesla has a huge fan base of non-Tesla owners. What will they do next?

Tesla’s goal is to be fully self-driving car in 2018. I expect sentience is not far off. Will cars make decisions on whether to take longer, non-toll routes when in “economy mode”? Or will my car, in “eco-mode,” calculate the tradeoff of carbon footprint versus time saved to take the faster route, after checking my calendar to see if I have any appointments? It’s a bit creepy if my car makes decisions for me. Even if I previously selected eco-mode in a passing fit of virtuousness, it doesn’t mean that I always want economy choices in reality; most people include wishful thinking in their quest for morality, and I am likely no exception.

Or will my car be less responsible, and more influenced by interest-related advertising based on my prior actions? I can see it now; maybe my car, in “luxury mode,” will ask to be painted in the latest trendy color and pout when I firmly point out that a nice wax job is quite sufficient. After all, beauty comes from within. Didn’t that nice Nissan Leaf allow us to merge in bumper-to-bumper traffic just last week? Those Nissans are so polite.  

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Lynnette Reese holds a B.S.E.E from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Lynnette has worked at Mouser Electronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale (now NXP), and Cypress Semiconductor. Lynnette has three kids and occasionally runs benign experiments on them. She is currently saving for the kids’ college and eventual therapy once they find out that cauliflower isn’t a rare albino broccoli (and other white lies.)

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