Two Predictions: Wearable Devices and Driverless Cars

By | April 27, 2012
Google driverless car operating on a testing path

Google driverless car operating on a testing path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s been a ton of advancement in sensors in the last several years. Low-power cheap processors and battery technology has advanced to allow for things like Nest, FitBit, Zeo, Wahoo Fitness and other devices to become viable.

While neither is a huge prediction, my guess is that in 10 years, two things will come true.

1. Wearable Devices

Wearable devices will be the norm, not the exception. It won’t be simple applications we can imagine. Already pacemakers and heart monitors are becoming network-accessible, meaning doctors can monitor their patients remotely. But soon intelligence will be built into these devices. Many high-end cars (Mercedes, Lexus, Volvo, Saab) have sleep monitors in their cars, and they are alarming accurate (at least with me). These cars use a variety of data (driving patterns, cameras) and can alert you if there are changes that indicate drowsiness.

Now imagine if the sensors were turned on around us all the time. Ginger.io seems to be touching the surface on the possibilities. People wonder what features the new iPhone would have, imagine if they get into health tracking? And they may even get into drug delivery. Imagine a sensor that determines you’re having a heart attack / stroke (which even doctors miss the symptoms), and then automatically deliver aspirin / call 911.

2. Autonomous Cars

Related to the first, in 10 years, I believe all new cars will be able to drive themselves on the highway. Every year, accidents fall in the top 5 for cause of death. Last year, almost 33,000 people died on highways. While it is falling, the number is significant. I believe that, in 10 years, all new cars will come equipped with an ability to drive themselves on the highway. Google has their driverless car, though they can’t make phones that don’t crash, so I’m not trusting their cars yet (I jest).

While what Google is doing is cool, it’s not in mass production so it is harder to determine it’s effectiveness. But there are elements of this that are in use today. Many car manufacturers have introduced active cruise control, which adjusts to the speed of the car in front, as well as lane departure and blind spot warnings. Mercedes and Audi are introducing autonomous driving for traffic jams under 25 and 37 mph (respectively). It makes sense- humans are limited in reaction time. At highway speeds, we humans can’t react quickly enough to many situations that develop ahead of us, just given the time it takes to register and press the brake. At 55 mph in perfect conditions, that can be almost 300 feet (and reaction time doubles if texting). Computers can address many of these shortcomings, as well as predict potential dangers and traps based on factors we may not think about (including historical road data). And imagine if the cars can communicate with each other? An example – a vehicle in front of you may have a sensor anticipating a tire blowout, and alert your vehicle to slow down and stay back, before the actual tire blowout occurs.

A large percentage of the population enjoys driving, and there will be a serious backlash if it’s mandated anywhere, so I don’t think that will happen (nor do I recommend that). However, I do think people will be amenable to letting their vehicles do most of the highway driving, especially on longer drives and commutes. Airplanes practically fly themselves, why shouldn’t cars?

Implications

What’s even more fascinating are implications. The security issues are probably the most worrisome. With all these devices connected, people will try to hack them. It’s one thing if your computer has a virus, but the last thing you’d want is someone triggering a defibrillation or corrupting your car’s GPS data and causing it to go in the wrong direction. Marc Goodman of Singularity University was recently on PBS and discussing these exact concerns.

What’s even more of a factor is the human resistance to trusting technology, rightfully so in this case. The software to develop these kind of devices is extremely complex, and not perfect. Situations like the famous Therac-25 will happen, and people will become even more resistant to adopt.

But that will change. In time, people will get used to the technology and begin trusting it. And we’ll all be safer and healthier for it.

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