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INDUSTRY NEWS

May 31, 2017
Autonomous Vehicle Technology in Armoured Cars?
Military technology is debatably the birthplace for most commercial defence and security systems. Tools such as the internet and computers can both trace their origin back to military use. This phenomenon also holds true in the automotive industry. 
 
Today’s luxury cars come standard with features like adaptive cruise control, allowing cars to accelerate and decelerate autonomously based on traffic movement. This feature uses radar technology which was first developed by the U.S. Navy in 1940’s to protect battleships from surprise attacks.  Sonar, another piece of military technology, is now used in parking warning systems. Even GPS navigation is navy-born.

The race for self-driving cars

These technologies are now being harnessed to enable the development of self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles. The automotive industry is currently in a race to launch fully autonomous vehicles, and is already testing this technology across various segments. A self-parking feature is already being implemented in top of the line BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans. 
 
Concept cars by the above-mentioned car marques and other luxury brands indicate that fully autonomous luxury vehicles are not far off from going into mass production. Yet beyond the premium and luxury car segment are those seeking not just lavish rides but top-tier security only found in armoured cars. The question is – is there room for autonomous vehicle technology in armoured cars?

Why do armoured cars matter?

Armoured cars are sought for their ability to resist attacks and protect their precious occupants. Not only do they need to be able to resist ammunition and ballistic assaults, they also need to enable drivers to quickly navigate out of threatening positions. This can be supported by high performance engines that can launch the cars from standstill to cruise speed within seconds. 

Challenges of autonomous vehicle technology

Challenge #1: AI needs to be developed to make decision in life threatening situations

In life threatening situations, drivers are required to make quick analysis of the environment and simultaneously devise the safest way out, a skill which develops through training. For autonomous vehicle technology to be utilized in armoured cars, the car needs to be able to read, analyze and respond quickly. Whereas computers can do this already, placing critical decisions on artificial intelligence systems on vehicles appears to be very premature in the development stage.

Challenge #2: Compliance with the law

Autonomous vehicles are guided by strict legislations such as speed limits and other road regulations. Strict observance of these rules is what developers say that makes these cars particularly safe. On the flipside, unsafe situations require armoured car drivers to perform evasive manoeuvres that could be in non-compliance with the said rules.
 
If an armoured autonomous car were allowed to perform similar measures, it would be risking a run-in with the law, and doing so with no individual to take responsibility for any arising repercussions.  This will then prove to be a huge hurdle to tackle when we want autonomous cars to be in full compliance with the law.
 
If the autonomous technology is tuned to obey compliance, an autonomous armoured vehicle would be unable to respond adequately in the interests of protecting its passengers. Even if it were possible to code a less stringent protocol for these cars to follow, current technology would be hard pressed to teach discretion to an autonomous car. Therefore, armoured self-driving car manufacturers would need to find better ways to navigate passenger safety while still staying in compliance with the law. 

Challenge #3: Speed issues to overcome

Current self-driving cars are limited when it comes to speed.  This is because of the fact that this technology is still partly experimental, requiring manufacturers to be weary of high speeds. Most autonomous cars that are close to mass production focus on everyday driving speeds. Only the autonomous Audi RS7 and NIO supercar have performed exceptionally well at high speeds. Even so, these cars were tested on a racing track. This is much different from the complex setup of a city landscape.

Bottom line

The thought of relaxing in a fully autonomous armored BMW while enjoying all its amenities is tempting. However, relying completely on a computer to manoeuvre an armoured vehicle under attack might be a hard-sell. Autonomous vehicle technology must first prove itself among the rigours of non-armoured vehicle operation before it can be trusted with the lives of VIPs and their loved ones. 

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