Tomorrow’s self-driving cars are programmed to handle harsh winter conditions, unwary pedestrians and even bird droppings, but the biggest danger could be a solar storm that disrupts GPS communications and turns roads into giant parking lots.
Bloomberg has previously warned against relying too much on satellite data, which could cause problems for self-driving vehicles. The Sun regularly produces solar flares and clouds of plasma, thereby spewing magnetic fields and all kinds of charged particles into space. We don’t usually notice much of the so-called solar storms, except for the colorful northern lights around the poles, caused by charged particles colliding with the upper atmosphere. But the problem is that they can also disrupt communications on Earth.
Solar storms, like hurricanes, are rated for intensity on a scale of 1 to 5. NASA has two spacecraft available to monitor solar activity, and the US Air Force has developed a system to predict potential disruptions to communications and navigation systems. Right now, we appear to be in a period of dormancy in solar activity. Eruptions generally follow an eleven-year cycle, peaking as recently as 2014.
Solar flares and plasma clouds are often not directed toward Earth. And even if it did, we would still have Earth’s protective magnetic field. But even this Earth’s magnetic field can’t protect us from the “perfect storm”: A confluence of conditions leading to highly concentrated space weather on Earth. This happened, for example, in 1859 when the sun caused the telegraph communication between Europe and America to fail due to a short circuit. And in 1989, a plasma cloud knocked out a power grid in Canada, leaving 6 million people without power for more than nine hours.
But how great is the chance that we will be back again in the short term Having to deal with such an intense scenario? In 2012, experts reported that the chance of us experiencing another solar storm like the one we saw in 1859 within ten years is about 12 percent. Partly for this reason, automated car and truck engineers are taking steps to deal with unexpected disruptions like solar storms. For example, some self-driving systems include regional maps that help cars without satellite navigation find the next highway exit.
According to artificial intelligence experts, enough security measures have been included to prevent a Mad MaxIt’s like the scenario on highways after a solar storm. According to Danny Shapiro of Nvidia, a technology company that specializes in artificial intelligence, among other things, cars in the worst case will park themselves on a tough shoulder. “Moreover, most cars don’t always rely on GPS data when navigating through town.”
Unlimited free access to Showbytes? Which can!
Log in or create an account and never miss a thing from the stars.
“Avid pop culture junkie. Alcohol nerd. Award-winning problem solver. Wannabe writer. Baconaholic. Typical creator.”