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Magna Interview: Jerry Lavine on the Hurdles of Autonomous Driving

Few may realize how complex roadways are, but that picture becomes very clear the moment you start to think about replacing drivers with computers. The road’s many nuances – from gestures and hand signals to a multitude of maneuvers – are far deeper than any computer can currently handle. It might have seemed simple when humans are behind the wheel, but it feels much more complicated when the car moves automatically.

“A lot of times drivers of non-autonomous vehicles don’t follow the rules,” said Jerry Lavine, VP of advanced product development at Magna. “What happens when you have an autonomous vehicle that’s programmed to just follow the rules? How do people experience that? And will it be a good experience for them or a bad experience?”

These are some of the many hurdles that must be overcome in order for autonomous vehicles to operate without human intervention.

“Some of it is going to be the infrastructure itself, [which] needs to be developed and managed,” said Lavine. “At the same time you also need to see what the customer acceptance is. There’s nobody out there that’s riding in a level 4 vehicle [yet], so how are customers going to interact with it and what will their experience be?”

Building Smarter Cities

There’s been a lot of talk about the connectivity between cars and the cities of tomorrow, but many questions remain. Most importantly: will self-driving cars be able to function without being connected?

“The car [should be able to] operate independently, but it’ll operate more efficiently and effectively with a smart city,” said Lavine. “The infrastructure is really a big part of autonomy. You’ll never get to mass deployment of level 4, level 5 vehicles without an infrastructure that supports it and enables it. A smart city is definitely a big step in the right direction.”

Lavine added that camera-based technology, along with object detection and recognition, will be necessary for the car to read and understand any number of road signs. He would like these things (including sign placement and the way information is communicated) to be standardized for autonomous vehicles.

Environmental Challenges

What happens if a road sign is covered by snow or other environmental hazards? This has been an ongoing challenge for driverless cars, but Lavine thinks that high-definition maps will provide a solution, allowing cars to read the road even if it can’t see everything within the environment.

“I think mapping helps overcome some of that,” he said. “There are issues, like when you go through a tunnel and your visibility changes. If roads are flooded, that creates a problem. Those are things that need to be overcome with the infrastructure itself.”

Cloud Vs. Smart Cities

Some may wonder if cloud-based connectivity will be necessary once smart cities are up and running. Lavine said it depends on the amount of information the car is getting.

“At the end of the day, you need to know what’s going on in the infrastructure and the vehicle needs to be able to communicate back,” he explained. “I’m sure you could probably get it through a smart city versus a cloud, but that’s really one in the same. And my guess is a smart city is going to also have a cloud. It’ll be somewhat cloud-based.”

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.

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