Renault Plans to Make Self-Driving Cars That Know When They Need Repairs

Thursday, 28 September 2017 - 8:50PM
Thursday, 28 September 2017 - 8:50PM
Renault Plans to Make Self-Driving Cars That Know When They Need Repairs
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The future of car maintenance is a lot like the future of driving - it's unlikely that humans will find themselves making any of the big decisions once the cars get smart enough.

Currently, the big car-related technology that's got most people interested is the self-driving AI that could make life a lot easier for anyone who wants to put on makeup while commuting to work. Soon, cars will do all the driving for us, and we'll get to sit back, relax, and watch movies during long drives.

French car manufacturer Renault is taking things a step further. In addition to working on self-driving technology, the automotive company also aims to build a smart, complex picture of all their cars on the road, along with relative replacement needs of their entire line over several years, in order to allow self-driving cars to be able to tell when their parts are wearing out, and even send themselves out for servicing.

It's a smart plan in theory - through keeping track of when parts need to be replaced across all Renault cars on the road, the company's AI can begin to spot warning signs surrounding wear and tear which suggest that, say, a car needs a new battery. Then the car can merrily take itself to a repair shop, get its battery replaced, and head back to where it was before without its owner giving things a second thought.

In fact, with such an efficient system running in major cities, Renault also predicts that around a decade after self-driving technology catches on, people can be convinced to rent cars rather than buy them outright, and will be able to hail a passing rental vehicle much like someone might hail a cab, without any need for a permanent car.

It's an intriguing idea which presumably would work through some kind of subscription service, although it's hard to imagine people embracing the idea wholesale if it means that your car will disappear off with someone else the moment you turn your back, forcing you to find another one roaming around the street. Besides, you'd almost definitely leave your sunglasses behind while in a rental car, and find yourself reminiscing on the Good Old Days when a person could own possessions rather than just renting them from big business.

There's also the concern for those who own Renaults outright that this technology might not be welcomed. After all, if Renault has a vested financial interest in cars thinking that they need parts replaced, it's awfully tempting to set the parameters for a replacement battery as low as possible. Customers might not take too kindly to their car going off and spending money on unnecessary repairs simply because their programming told them to.

Currently, Renault admits that this could be a real problem, not because they'd deliberately send cars for expensive repair work early (perish the thought) but because the company doesn't have enough data to build a full picture of car replacement needs. Currently, Renault has data on 200 cars, when at least 100,000 would be needed to paint an accurate picture of wear and tear. Currently, were this system implemented, cars would be getting unnecessary tune-ups 50% of the time, which suggests that the technology needs more practice.

It makes sense that if driving is delegated to robots, it's helpful for the robots to be able to spot the warning signs of necessary repair work that a human driver would otherwise pick up on if they were behind the wheel. That said, this technology still feels like a hard sell at present, as most car owners like to believe that they know their vehicles better than anyone else, and don't want a glorified database telling them when their car might possibly need a checkup based solely on the law of averages.

Considering how many technology users currently ignore recommended updates to apps, firmware, and operating systems, it's worth assuming that the same attitude will keep many car owners away from any car that has the autonomy necessary to ring up big credit card bills for its owner just because it thinks its battery might be going flat.
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