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Safety, work, play, repeat: How connectivity takes self-driving vehicles one level up

Technology and Business

Alice Salter

Alice Salter



In this article we explore a common term in the world of driverless, asking: 

  • What are connected autonomous vehicles? 
  • How do connected and autonomous cars differ? 
  • Why is connectivity important to autonomous driving? 


Autonomous driving technology is an incredibly broad topic, and it’s one which is constantly growing. As a result, the terminology we use to discuss it is varied. We might talk about autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars, driverless transport or even a robo-car, but the fundamentals remain the same. Now, the term ‘connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV)’ is gaining traction in the industry, and it is one which provides some useful distinction for consumers and developers alike. 


As the term would suggest, a CAV combines connectivity and autonomous technologies to ensure safe operation of a vehicle without a human driver. Often this will be achieved through a combination of advanced sensor technology, on-board and remote processing, GPS and telecommunications systems. Here, connectivity tech essentially supplements the sensor technology which has become a mainstay of the driverless vehicle, allowing for increased awareness of any vehicle’s surroundings. 

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Connected cars vs. autonomous vehicles 

Are connected and autonomous vehicles the same? It’s a question that’s often asked and it’s worth answering here. Though connected cars and autonomous ones have different capabilities, they are both part of the same journey in the automotive industry, moving away from reliance on human response. They’ve both, at times, been described as the ‘defining feature of the car of the future’ and both work towards making travel safer for passengers and pedestrians alike. 

However, there is a clear distinction. Where autonomous technology is designed to undertake driving tasks on a human driver’s behalf, connectivity technology enables information-sharing inside and outside the vehicle. A fully connected car may be autonomous, but it provides further function too, including a range of technologies which allow it transfer and process large amounts of data while on the move.  

This means a vehicle might ‘know’ when others are approaching, when a pedestrian is in a dangerous position or when it’s likely to meet slower traffic around a corner. The key advantage here is being able to perceive changes to traffic flow before the visual sensors we associate with AVs would be able to pick up the appropriate information. However, this comes at the cost of incorporating significant processing power into every design as all this data must be transferred, stored and acted upon at incredible speed to remain effective. Right now it’s been suggested that Level 5 cars will send 25 gigabytes of data to the cloud every hour. That’s more than the storage on most modern smartphones. 

Quartz 2015

Why is connectivity important in self-driving cars? 

Connectivity and autonomous technology are naturally linked, so understanding the role of connectivity in our progress towards true driverless tech is quite straightforward. On the most basic level, technologies which build connectivity between vehicles and infrastructure provide AVs with another source of information to feed into all-important decision-making processes. 

But looking beyond the basics of autonomous driving, connectivity offers passengers a better in-car experience. Vitally, as the act of driving itself is removed, travelling in autonomous vehicles becomes an experience-based activity. We’ve spoken before about the value of user experience and how we might spend time in an AV, and connectivity is the technology which allows most of the activities we’d naturally turn to. Such connection also offers new opportunity in infotainment. It’s connectivity, after all, that will allow us to play, work or watch media on the go once we no longer need to focus on the task of driving. 

Safety, however, remains the key selling point for connected cars as what we’d broadly term environmental communication – further broken down into vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) – allows vehicles to communicate with their surroundings and so react to danger ahead of time. The aptly named vehicle-to-everything (V2X) encompasses all these features. Communicating with external infrastructure like traffic lights and other vehicles puts these cars in a strong position to not just react to new circumstances but predict them too. 

Going one step further, connected vehicles may soon be able to communicate with pedestrians. Honda and SoftBank are currently working on an alert system which could reduce collisions between pedestrians and vehicles, with the first round of three use cases set to conclude next month. For CAVs, this is an important step as it shows carmakers and AV developers are considering not just the safety of passengers, but pedestrians too. 


Connectivity and autonomous technology work incredibly well together. Not only does the former act as an additional sensor for the latter, in partnership the technologies have the power to increase safety, and so acceptance. Broadly speaking, it is safety perception which remains a primary driver to widespread AV, or indeed CAV, acceptance. Developments which consider all humans in the autonomous driving ecosystem, such as that being made by Honda and SoftBank, may go a long way to alleviating those fears.  

Ultimately, the combination of connected and autonomous vehicles leads to progress. And here at 2025AD, we’re eager to see plenty more of it. 




We’d love to hear what you think. Would you worry about the sharing of your data in this way? Is ensuring data privacy key to building trust in CAVs? Would better infotainment options make you more likely to try a CAV?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. 


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