“Solar storm could cause biggest traffic jam ever” | Car

Tomorrow’s self-driving cars are programmed to handle harsh winter conditions, careless pedestrians and even bird droppings, but the biggest danger could be a solar storm that interrupts GPS communications and turns roads into giant parking lots.

Bloomberg has previously warned of an overreliance on satellite data, which could cause problems for self-driving vehicles. The sun regularly produces solar flares and clouds of plasma, throwing magnetic fields and all kinds of charged particles out into space. Usually, we don’t notice many of these so-called solar storms, except for the colorful aurora borealis around the poles, caused by charged particles colliding with the upper atmosphere. But the problem is that they can also disrupt communications on Earth.


Solar storms, like hurricanes, are rated in intensity on a scale of 1 to 5. NASA has two spacecraft to monitor solar activity, and the US Air Force has also developed a system to predict potential disturbances communication and navigation systems. Right now, we seem to be in a lull in solar activity. Eruptions generally follow an eleven-year cycle, most recently peaking in 2014.

Perfect storm

Often solar flares and plasma clouds are not directed at Earth. And even if that’s the case, we still have Earth’s protective magnetic field. But even this Earth’s magnetic field cannot protect us against “The Perfect Storm”: a confluence of circumstances leading to extreme Earth-centered space weather. This happened, for example, in 1859 when the sun caused the telegraph connection between Europe and America to fail due to a short circuit. And in 1989, a cloud of plasma destroyed a power grid in Canada, leaving 6 million people without power for more than nine hours.

12 percent

But what is the chance that we will do it again in the short term having to deal with such an intense scenario? In 2012, experts said the chance of us being hit again by a solar storm like the one we saw in 1859 within ten years is about 12%. Partly for this reason, engineers in automated cars and trucks take steps to deal with unexpected disturbances such as solar storms. For example, some self-driving systems include regional maps that help cars without satellite navigation find the next freeway exit.


According to artificial intelligence experts, sufficient security measures are built in to prevent a madmax-similar scenario on highways after a solar storm. According to Danny Shapiro of Nvidia, a technology company specializing in artificial intelligence, among other things, cars would stop in the worst case on the hard shoulder. “Also, most cars don’t rely on GPS data all the time when navigating the city.”

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