Autonomous cars and mobile data – what could possibly go wrong?

37w ago


Yesterday, the UK's second largest mobile network provider, O2 stopped working. This affected 25 million users across the UK who use O2 and other networks using O2's network such as Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff and Lycamobile.

I was one of the affected users and it was incredibly annoying when I had to go anywhere without a decent Wi-Fi signal as my iPhone turned into a very expensive iPod Touch.

One of the issues this outage caused Transport for London's digital bus timetables which stopped working because they use O2. This got me thinking, what if this were to happen to autonomous cars?

Yes, we are yet to get to the point where there are enough driverless cars on the road to be affected but the possibility is there. This strikes the question of what would happen to autonomous cars if a data network such as O2 or EE were to stop working.


Image Source: Apple

We take services such as Google Maps and Waze for granted when we are driving. Autonomous cars would use something similar to go from point A to point B and if they lose their 4G signal, they won't be able to work out where they are going. The solution to this would be autonomous cars to automatically download the routes they take the most often to avoid getting lost, coming to a complete standstill, or even worse, have a crash.

Car-to-Car Communication

Image Source: Mercedes-Benz

Car-to-car communication would be vital for autonomous cars to work on the roads and this would also rely on a data signal. Much like if the navigation system was to loose signal, the car-to-car communication would also stop working and I believe the offshoot of this would be total chaos. Accident's would happen resulting in complicated insurance claims, lawsuits and so on.

Ride sharing applications

Image Source: Waymo

A lot of recent autonomous car concepts focus on being shared by multiple people. These types of services simply wouldn't work for cars and customers using a certain data network like O2 or EE as they wouldn't be able to use the service. This is also bad news for the ride sharing company as they would lose a huge amount of revenue from the network outage.

Starting your own car

Image Source: Teslarati

This doesn't necessarily apply to autonomous cars as many new cars on sale today have a companion app. Take Tesla's a good example. If you buy a Tesla Model 3, you'll have to use your phone as the key to the car as the Model 3 doesn't have a traditional key. Your car would be practically useless if your phone loses signal for a good period of time and you have no way of opening the car manually or using a Wi-Fi network.

Smart roads

Image Source: New Civil Engineer

If you live in the UK and have used the M1 motorway recently, you'll know that it's gradually being transformed into a 'smart' motorway. In its current state, it likes to close lanes randomly and set a 50mph speed limit for what feels like an eternity. In the near future, more roads will become 'smart' and most likely rely on data signals from network masts, satellites, and even cars. These 'smart' roads will become everyone's worst nightmare if the data network they use suddenly stops working as anything can happen.

What do you think?

Are you concerned that this might become a reality in 10-20 years when autonomous cars become more and more common? Do you think they'll have a solution to an event like this from happening again? Let me know in the comments below.

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