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Challenges and possibilities for the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Mexico
Submitted by Federico Cirett Galan, Universidad de Sonora on 1 avr. 2016 - 23:24
Type de publication:Conference Paper
Source:Gerpisa colloquium, Puebla (2016)
There are several terms to describe the smart car: selfdriving car, driverless car, autonomous vehicle, among others. These concepts encompass the idea of avehicle that can be driven alone without human intervention. In the last decade the advances in this technology have put smart vehicles on the streets in several countries (including Mexico, very briefly). Several universities and companies are developing the technology and software needed to make this technology available to the population in a near future. In this article we explore the possibilities, obstacles and key challenges for the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Mexico.
The impact of autonomous vehicles in society
Smart cars navigate by themselves without the need of human assistance, providing several benefits to communities. Being a machine, the lack of emotions, the strict adherence to law and proper behaviour makes them the perfect vehicle to reduce the risk of accidents. The selfdriving feature allows people with disabilities to commute without the need of others. In Mexico, in 2010, there were more than 5 million 700 thousand people with disabilities [INEGI, 2010]. Introducing smart cars in Mexico would be a fair measure of inclusion. In addition, the introduction of smart cars could reduce the number of road accidents as the number of cars in circulation, decreasing pollution caused by carbon dioxide emissions, a problem in big cities, as Mexico City.
By 2020, it is estimated that 10 million cars with a higher level of automation will be sold, and by 2019, the introduction of the first autonomous car in the market [BI Intelligence, 2015]. Tesla announced that in 2018, their cars will reach total autonomy [Fortune, 2015], while the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) predicts that 75% of cars in 2040 will be autonomous. The advent of smart cars into Mexico is imminent, but what are the challenges that must be overcome before the entering of autonomous vehicles into the country?
The challenges of the introduction of self‐driving vehicles into México
The introduction of the smart car to Mexico faces several obstacles, such as poor infrastructure, poor road culture, no legal framework, among others. If these problems remain unsolved, the delay of the introduction of the technology could put the country at a disadvantaged position. Some of the most important issues that must be addressed are listed below.
Computer vision limitations
Autonomous cars depend on complex algorithms of artificial intelligence and computer vision to acquire information from the environment and take decisions in real time. Those algorithms cover different problems but also rely on specific conditions and several assumptions, as for instance, the detection of traffic signs and its proper interpretation is crucial to navigate accordingly and avoid collisions. In order to do so, the sign must be readable and in place. In Mexico, sign vandalism and the lack of proper traffic signs is a problem all around the country. Also, the irregularities of roads and the visual pollution caused by a number of advertisement on streets make signs localisation a very difficult task, even for the best algorithms.
In October 2015 the smart car prototype "AutoNOMOS" of the Free University of Berlin traveled two times from Nogales, Sonora to Mexico City, the first one to make a digital map of the road, driven by a human pilot and the second one to travel autonomously. The project leader, Raul Rojas, said that Mexico represented a major technological challenge: "The tour was a challenge because Mexican roads differ from European, having bumps, caps and lack of delineation of lanes or areas construction" [La Jornada, 2015].
Interconnectivity is needed for optimum performance and safety navigation of autonomous vehicles. Intervehicular communication supports the information flow among smart cars traveling on the same road to broadcast any alert to others and help them to make the right decisions in order to avoid collisions or traffic congestions optimizing the route to their destination.
In Mexico, the wifi coverage is not guaranteed (Figure 4). For instance, along the international highway the most important highway to traverse the country the signal is not constant nor strong. The circulation of smart cars on those roads would not be safe, and it is precisely on these highways where the selfdriving feature would be most useful to enable passengers make use of long hours during a safe travel.
Smart cars are in a testing phase; they will become part of our urban scenario in the next years, and the figure of an autonomous vehicle must be included in the mexican constitution. Some US states have already approved the circulation of smart cars on their roads, such as California, Nevada, Florida and Washington, D.C. In Mexico there is no legislation considering the use of smart cars at any level, and the Internet of Things is also not regulated. The liability of an entity when a smart car is involved in a collision with another car as well as accidents involving people must be established in the law. Also, public policies must be proposed to support the acquisition and use of smart vehicles.
It is expected that by 2017 the first total autonomous car hit the market in the United States. Even when there is no date available for the introduction of smart cars to Mexico, we can expect their arrival in the second decade of this century. The proper debating on the legislation, infrastructure, security, ethical and cultural aspects is needed in order to be prepared for that moment.