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In case of solar storms, there could be a massive spike in geomagnetic activity and radiation which will affect driverless cars. The vehicles, which heavily rely on GPS, could experience mayhem since the connection between a GPS system and the satellites could be cut off. What would follow on the road would be a disaster.
Scientists rate solar storms on a five-step scale. The biggest can cripple global power grids, knock out satellites, and destroy radio communication on the sunlit side of the planet, Fin 24 noted
Scott McIntosh, the director of the high-altitude observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, pointed out that using GPS heavily in programming a driverless vehicle from one point to another is an issue. From an actuarial point of view, there is a lot of riding on it. All it is going to take is a couple of accidents for the industry to suffer.
Avoiding disastrous scenarios
But Carscoop noted that there are systems in place to avoid really disastrous scenarios. There is, for instance, a satellite that is stationed 1 million miles from the Earth and acts as a warning point for the arrival of a solar storm. It usually provides notice back to Earth 30 to 60 minutes before the storm hits the planet.
In September, the system worked. The system recorded two mass coronal mass ejections that were rated a three on the severity scale. Airplane trips bound for the poles were rerouted, McIntosh said, The National reported.
Digital Trends reported that NASA owns two Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft that monitor solar activity. The Air Force has rolled out the Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System a few years ago specifically to forecast possible disruption to communication and navigation systems.
In the event of a solar storm, Danny Shapiro, the senior director of the automotive unit at Nvidia Corp., said that driverless vehicles can also feature enough redundancy to pull over and stop. Moreover, solar storms are not that frequent in the first place. It follows an 11-year cycle, and the last one was in 2014. It will give manufacturers of fully autonomous cars some time to figure out how to deal with such issues until the solar system’s star bursts out again.
To outsmart the Sun, engineers behind driverless cars are taking steps by basing the self-driving system on a field of sensors, including LiDAR, which are laser pulses that read the immediate surroundings and speak directly to the car’s computer nerve system. They also stored more remote intelligence, such as the distance to the next interstate exit, in high-definition maps that are updated regularly.
A Tesla that relies on its Autopilot software or a Waymo car that shuttles passengers around Phoenix will not need GPS to stay safely on the road.
However, there are still other potential trouble areas for autonomous vehicles. Because the planet is in the line of fire of a series of coronal holes, the magnetically charged particles from the Sun generally arc back from where it came. But when it does not do that, a coronal hole happens. It will simply blast into the universe and hit anything, possibly robotic cars.
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The Daily Mail noted that the NOOA warned this week of small effects to communication systems that could be caused by a recent solar storm. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a minor geomagnetic storm watch was conducted March 14 and 15 when the Aurora became visible at high latitudes.
The agency’s website warned that the storm could cause weak power grid fluctuations and have a small impact on satellite operations. The NOAA forecast was for a G-1 or minor storm. But it could become a G-2 moderate storm depending on how the charged particles hit the planet.
Holes in the Sun’s outermost magnetic layer, known as its corona, generated the solar storm late last week. It allowed charged particles to escape more readily into space, and it resulted in streams of relatively fast solar wind which is often referred to as high-speed stream or a solar storm.
Scientific American noted that in a recent preprint paper published by two Harvard University researchers, they estimated that the potential economic damage from a solar storm could equal the current US GDP totalling about $20 trillion.
Abraham Loeb and Manasvi Lingam, astrophysicists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, developed a mathematical model that assumed society’s vulnerability to solar burps will increase in tandem with technological advances. The model said that in the next five decades, the potential for economic damage will depend mainly on the higher odds of a strong solar storm over time. However, after 50 years, there will be an exponential increase in vulnerability with technological progress.
The solution, Loeb and Lingam proposed, is to put in place a $100-billion magnetic deflector shield which would be positioned between the Earth and the Sun.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼= Vittorio Hernandez 기자]