It’s easy to forget just how much of daily life is influenced by satellites.
Your cell phone service, mobile GPS, perhaps even your Internet wouldn’t be possible if not for satellites. Still, the idea that satellites can control cars probably feels a little space-aged; in reality, that age has arrived.
With No Help from You
Autonomous cars are all the rage, in terms of tech advancements getting lots of media buzz. It’s important to understand, though, that these cars aren’t operating all on their own. Sure, you won’t be doing any steering, but there is an outside force that tells these cars where to go: satellites.
Many new cars are already something called connected cars. These are cars equipped with a number of functions only possible through the use of a satellite connection. This includes things like playing music and integrated navigation systems that will work even when you lose cell service.
The first shades of these connected cars came in 1996 when the OnStar system was unveiled by General Motors. Since then, connectivity has only gotten more advanced. Today, the next wave of autonomous cars will rely on a mix of software and satellite connection to know where to go, how to get there, and what potential obstacles lie along the way.
The Role of Satellite
You’re likely familiar with the fact that satellites are responsible for modern GPS, but you may be wondering how exactly they’re integral to autonomous cars. Simply put, satellites allow the car to communicate with the manufacturer’s cloud, receiving updates and sending data all the time. Not to mention, highly precise maps are what allow self-driving cars to function with such accuracy.
To break it down further, autonomous cars are essentially sophisticated machines run by integrated computers. Like all computers, the ones in autonomous cars rely on software to perform their functions. Inevitably, software becomes outdated over time. Just like you might update the operating system on your phone or laptop, a self-driving car’s operating system would also eventually need updated.
Satellites communicate these updates to the cars and perform them automatically, resolving any need for users to check on potential updates.
Perhaps the more immediate use of satellites in autonomous cars is the actual driving. The combination of information gathered from cameras on the autonomous cars and satellite views of the cars help the vehicles know how they must adjust in order to stay on the road and avoid dangers. Some of this is integrated within the car, but a large portion of it relies upon satellite imaging of roadways.
Who Makes it Happen?
Satellite controlled cars aren’t just hypothetical anymore. Though Tesla is probably the most well-known champion for autonomous cars in the modern age, Google unveiled its first self driving car more than 5 years ago. Without a steering wheel or pedals, this vehicle doesn’t even allow for the option of manual control.
Instead, the entire system is reliant upon satellite signals and internal sensors. These cars aren’t yet mainstream, but society appears to be reaching a tipping point where new vehicles will feature this sort of highly advanced technology.
If you buy a car 10 years down the road, you may find that it’s a satellite controlling the vehicle rather than you.