Welcome to Carleton’s ITS newsletter, Spotlight on IT. We spotlight different trends and topics in the information technology world. If you know someone who would like to receive this newsletter send them here to subscribe!

The age of driverless vehicles is quickly moving from futuristic dream to present-day reality. This month’s Spotlight is all about autonomous vehicles and making smarter cars.

What is an autonomous vehicle?

Automation levels

There are five different levels of driving automation. At Level 1, the vehicle assists with some functions. This could be a car system that issues warnings or brakes a little for you when too close to another vehicle. At the other extreme is Level 5 (“steering wheel optional”). No human intervention is required for driving – for example, a robotic taxi.

Today’s Spotlight focuses on Level 5 – autonomous vehicles that are capable of navigating the environment without human input. These are also known as self-driving, driverless or robotic cars.

Navigating without a human

Autonomous vehicles detect their surroundings in several different ways including, radar, laser light, motion sensors, GPS and computer vision. Control systems analyze sensory data to “see” other cars and distinguish obstacles on the road. This enables driverless cars to make sense of their current environment. Google was the first company to test a prototype of an autonomous vehicle.

What makes self-driving cars feasible now?

Several advances in technology make self-driving cars a current reality.

Machine learning
Autonomous vehicles use machine-learning algorithms to create models that detect obstacles and make predictions. The goal is systems that perceive and act from data. For example, self-driving cars learn to avoid other cars by analyzing video frames from an onboard camera.

Internet of Things
The Internet of Things connects everyday objects through embedded computer devices and the Internet. In the case of self driving cars, it has been described as a shared universal mind that is dynamic and continuously being updated. For example, smart cars can register and share real-time traffic alerts.

Cloud computing
Using the cloud, smart cars can access data and communicate with each other to avoid accidents, download maps, get up-to-day traffic information and determine the best route to get somewhere.

Data availability & analysis
There is more and more data at our disposal both in quantity and variety. Data storage is also becoming more affordable. Computational processing is getting cheaper and more powerful. This makes it possible to analyze complex data quickly and accurately.

Carleton’s Research Computing Cloud
At Carleton, researchers who need high performance computing resources have access to the Research Computing and Development Cloud.

The Good and the Bad

Driverless car technology can be scary but it’s hard to deny the benefits. Here is a quick overview of some of the potential pros and cons.


Fewer accidents
81% of car accidents are due to human error. Compared to the behaviours we exhibit behind the wheel (speeding, distracted driving, disobeying laws) a computer is the ideal motorist. For example, autonomous vehicles use a complicated algorithm to determine safe stopping and driving distance. Decisions are not subject to mental state as is the case with humans!

A steadier speed would mean less fuel consumption. It is likely a car sharing model would evolve which would mean fewer cars on the road and less traffic congestion.

Driverless cars could offer more freedom to some populations (e.g., elderly and persons with disabilities) who may not be able to drive.

Safely multitask
Human passengers can use commute time for things other than driving such as, reading, working, talking or even sleeping.

Boost to economy
Driverless tech could add $7 trillion to the global economy.


Job loss
The need for fewer professional drivers (e.g., taxi and truck drivers) would impact the economy and unemployment rate.

Owning a self-driving car will likely be quite expensive. There will also be a substantial cost associated with building infrastructure and roads that are friendly to autonomous vehicles.

Technology can fail
There is always the potential for unexpected glitches when it comes to tech and programming. Even if it seems flawless at first, an update with faulty code could cause errors that lead to accidents. Environmental factors (e.g., heavy rain, snow) can affect the onboard instruments that gather data to analyze driving conditions.

Ethical issues
Who is at fault in the event of an accident – the manufacturer of the vehicle, the software developer? There has already been one case where a self-driving car caused a pedestrian fatality. Or who dies when the car is forced into a no-win situation? For example, should a self-driving car swerve into traffic, possibly killing its passengers and others, in order to avoid hitting a child who runs out onto the road?

Privacy and security
Just about every computing device can be hacked. This includes systems in driverless cars. Information could be accessed and exploited. Imagine if someone remotely accessed and took control of a driverless vehicle.

Autonomous Vehicle Research at Carleton

Carleton University is actively involved in autonomous vehicle technology, with over 125 researchers from four faculties and 13 university departments, schools and institutes engaged in research.

Research areas include: autonomous operations, data processing and management, sensor network technologies, wireless connectivity, cybersecurity, software engineering, and road and vehicle safety. Find out more at Carleton’s Autonomous Vehicles website.

Recently, Carleton students held a demonstration of the technology behind connected and autonomous vehicles. Organized by Professor Richard Yu, the event demonstrated the university’s contribution in the R&D of autonomous vehicles (view full story). This past Fall, Professor Yu was awarded $974,000 from the Canadian Safety and Security Program to help enhance the cybersecurity of autonomous vehicles.

5 Things we Thought you Should

1. Online training with Lynda.com
Looking to upgrade or polish your skills? All Carleton staff have ongoing, free access to Lynda.com. This website is a great learning resource with instructional videos in areas from software and programming, to business skills. For more information, visit Learning and Development.

2. Hardware Services recycles
Did you know that in 2017, the folks in Hardware Services recycled 16,505 kg of hardware? That’s the equivalent of 11 average sized cars! Recycled items included display devices, desktop and laptop computers, computer peripherals, and printers.This recycling program provides environmentally friendly and secure disposal of E-Waste free of charge. Campus community members can drop off their e-waste at 1251 Herzberg, between 9.00 am – 3.30pm.

3. Athletics website gets a makeover
Web Services collaborated with the folks in Athletics to get their new website up and running. The site is built on the new Carleton Framework which allows for more design choices and customization while still being both accessible and mobile-friendly. See the new site in action at and check out the fitness classes while you are there!

4. The Carleton Marketplace is live
After an extensive pilot, the Marketplace is now live and open to all Faculty and Staff to buy and sell their goods. You will find a link to the Marketplace in the lefthand navigation menu of the intranet dashboard or go directly to: i.carleton.ca/marketplace/.

5. Free antivirus software available for all faculty and staff
Antivirus software from Trend Micro is available for free to all faculty and staff for home use. Licenses are good for one year, after which time they expire. This year’s download is now available at: i.carleton.ca/antivirus/