Big Data and the Future of Self-Driving Cars

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There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way from the days when crank windows and stick shifts were the norm and cruise control was a new phenomenon. Modern cars now come equipped with a plethora of autonomous bells and whistles that help people drive safer on the roads.

However, the ever-approaching advent of the era of self-driving cars continues to remain several years in the future. The question is, where are we in the process of developing self-driving cars, and how does big data play a role currently as well as in the future of the autonomous transportation industry?

Big Data’s Role in Transportation

While there is a great deal of technology that has been poured into the development of self-driving cars, there’s no doubt that big data has held a leading role. After all, autonomous transportation is one of the main stomping grounds of the fledgling machine learning revolution. And, of course, the idea of machine learning is largely made possible by big data, as it gives computers the ability to independently find patterns in various sets of data, allowing it to make predictions and decisions based off the results.

Having masses of information available allows self-driving cars to “think” in increasingly complex ways that integrate everything from driving in a straight line to something as nuanced as detecting an object in a vehicle’s path and stopping before a collision.

Superior Vision

One of the areas where this advanced ability for cars to “think” is having a huge impact is in the areas where human shortcomings stand out the most. For instance, things like blind spots can be largely eliminated with sensors that can detect danger even from areas that may be impossible for human drivers to be aware of.

In addition, there are things like lane departure technology, automatic emergency brakes, self-parking, etc., all of which draw on the hefty pile of data available and largely eliminate the chance of human error.

Put simply, the power of big data doesn’t just give autonomous vehicles the power to think. It also increasingly equips vehicles with the technology to “see” their surroundings as well, and in ways that already surpass human ability.


Along with increasing the ability for cars to navigate the roads safely, big data is helping self-driving cars become increasingly more efficient. It provides the information necessary to help vehicles choose routes that reduce congestion and can help avoid things like parking issues.

While this is already being done in simplistic ways like Google Maps, which boasts the ability to highlight congestion on a route and even offer multiple alternatives, it’s not difficult to imagine big data enabling autonomous cars to take things to the next level, automatically tailoring the route of each individual trip in order to maximize the efficiency of both time and fuel used.

The same concept goes for commercial shipping, as well, as the internet of things (IoT) increases the ability for vehicles to communicate and provide the safest, most efficient mode of transport possible.

Big Data and Bad News

Another area where big data offers to help smooth the path to fully autonomous cars is in the PR department. For example, any time an accident involves an autonomous car, it makes major news headlines, sparking debate and creating fear in the minds of consumers.

However, the plain, hard truth of the matter is that human error causes more than 90% of the accidents related to cars. In other words, humanity is particularly responsible for the unsafe conditions that we face on the road.

Another even more sobering statistic is the fact that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 35,000 people died in 2015 in the U.S. alone due to incidents related to road traffic crashes. Big data information like this enables proponents of self-driving cars to continue to push for their adoption, countering the negative effects of fear-mongering over the rare, over-hyped individual incidents involving autonomous vehicles.

Big Data and the Future

While the future of fully autonomous cars may be a bit further down the road, that doesn’t change the role that big data will have in arriving there. The world is becoming increasingly driven by the role of big data and the analytical power that it provides.

This is likely to find a greater expression as the IoT continues to develop over time. A truly interconnected network of tools, backed by big data in the form of genuine collaboration and transparency of shared information, is a key element to the future of self-driving cars.

This will allow autonomous cars to connect to an existing network that will already house the massive quantity of data required to properly navigate the roads — it’s estimated that self-driving vehicles will use 40 terabytes of data in just eight hours of use. The development of this network will be a critical factor as the futures of both self-driving cars and big data itself continue to unfold.

While a responsible and expansive development of the IoT is likely, it is still something that won’t be fully available until some point in the future. In the meantime, the two technological marvels of big data and self-driving cars continue to forge ahead, opening new opportunities and keeping the promise of fully autonomous vehicles very much so a future possibility.

About the Author

Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things in nature, especially humans. Leave a comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or comments.

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