Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, unveiled a car a year ago called the OS’Car RX5. It’s one of a growing list of companies-both automotive and technology companies-that are introducing driverless cars. For example, Google’s Waymo is currently undergoing testing and Tesla recently started production of its mass market Model 3, which will have fully autonomous capabilities.
But the RX5 is different. It not just another driverless car. In fact, it doesn’t even claim to be a driverless car. What sets it apart from the usual autonomous buzz is the RX5’s practical use of the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT is changing our world. Every device, be it a smartphone, a laptop, a TV or a mirror is-or soon will be-connected to the internet sharing data. All these devices are identified by a unique IP address. These things or devices can then communicate with each other to make the world around us intelligent.
Alibaba’s car features some pretty advanced technology like voice operated car controls (not driving controls) and an Internet ID, which identifies the driver using their smartphone or smartwatch. It also features an intelligent map that doesn’t need a GPS or Wi-Fi for tracking the car.
Selfie lovers rejoice, because this car can also shoot 360-degree pictures using the four built-in cameras provided in the car. These pictures can be instantly uploaded through your smartphone.
All of these features are nice, but what powers this insanely cool tech? The answer is YunOS. YunOS literally means CloudOS in Mandarin, which pretty much relates to what this OS does. YunOS is a Linux distro for smartphones based on Android Open Source Project (AOSP). It uses apps that reside on the cloud without needing to download them, which is what Google is aiming for in its upcoming versions of Android. There are alternatives, such as Android Auto, but they are not as tightly coupled to the car as YunOS. Click here to watch a test drive of the car with Jack Ma, Alibaba’s chairman.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the RX5 on roads outside of China any time soon. It will have to go through rigorous testing and it will require an English version of the voice control system, at the very least.
Regarding voice control, Google has been testing Waymo and has made considerable progress with its voice and navigation control. Waymo’s intelligence is going undergoing rigorous testing on non-busy roads and intersections. The focus is not only to make a self-driving car, but to enable those with visual and other impairments to become independents drivers.
Of course, there are thorny issues to be worked out. Big technical challenges include how to ensure 100% bug-free software, adequate low latency, and versatile machine intelligence that understands road signs designed for humans. There’s the larger issue of whether self-driving cars will be able to make smart ethical judgments. For instance, choosing between hitting a pedestrian or driving off a cliff.
Two of the most important and challenging issues for IoT are privacy and security. A lot of IoT products on the market today are vulnerable to security attacks. A user's privacy can be compromised if the IoT device is not secure. One example is the alleged hack of Nissan’s Leaf electric car reported last year, where control of the climate control system and access to the vehicle’s navigation history were allegedly hijacked.
Assuming the challenges can be addressed, the exciting reality of autonomous and IoT-enabled driving is just around the corner.