[Nfbmo] Fw: [Missouri-l] Fw: [Quietcars] New Scientist article on cars thatdrive themselves

Fred Olver goodfolks at charter.net
Mon Apr 5 18:54:31 UTC 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Chip Hailey" <chiphailey at cableone.net>
To: "MCB Listserve" <missouri-l at moblind.org>
Sent: Monday, April 05, 2010 12:21 PM
Subject: [Missouri-l] Fw: [Quietcars] New Scientist article on cars 
thatdrive themselves

> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "michael townsend" <mrtownsend at optonline.net>
> To: <tse-chat at yahoogroups.com>
> Sent: Monday, April 05, 2010 12:09 PM
> Subject: [Quietcars] New Scientist article on cars that drive themselves
>> FYI:
>> Mike T in NJ
>> WITH his jeans, white trainers and stripy top, Bob is every inch the
>> well-dressed 6-year-old. He's standing in the middle of a hotel car park
>> and, scarily, I'm driving straight at him. Instead of hitting the brakes, 
>> I
>> put my foot down on the accelerator. With just 10 metres to go, a row of 
>> red
>> lights flashes across my windscreen and there's an urgent, high-pitched
>> beeping sound. An instant later, I am jerked forward as the brakes slam 
>> on
>> automatically and the car screeches to a halt just short of Bob's 
>> stomach.
>> This is what Bob is for. The child-sized dummy has just helped me
>> test the first in-car system that can sense an imminent collision with
>> pedestrians and brake automatically if the driver doesn't. It is being 
>> put
>> through final trials before being launched in May by Swedish car maker 
>> Volvo
>> in its new S60 model.
>> The Volvo system is the latest in a line of developments made
>> possible by sophisticated sensors based on cameras, radar and lasers. 
>> These
>> sensors already provide drivers with adaptive cruise control, which 
>> alters a
>> car's speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front, as 
>> well
>> as technology such as semi-autonomous parking systems. Yet according to
>> Jonas Ekmark, a researcher at Volvo near Gothenburg, this is just the 
>> start.
>> Ekmark says we are now entering an era in which vehicles will also
>> gather real-time information about the weather and highway hazards, using
>> this to improve fuel efficiency and make life less stressful for the 
>> driver
>> and safer for all road users. "Our long-term goal is the collision-free
>> traffic system," says Ekmark.
>> Ultimately, that means bypassing the fallible humans behind the
>> wheel - by building cars that drive themselves. Alan Taub, vice-president
>> for R&D at General Motors, expects to see semi-autonomous vehicles on the
>> highway by 2015. They will need a driver to handle busy city streets or
>> negotiate complex junctions, but once on the highway they will be able to
>> steer, accelerate and avoid collisions unaided. A few years on, he 
>> predicts,
>> drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel completely: "I see
>> the potential for launching fully autonomous vehicles by 2020."
>> By about 2020 drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel
>> completely
>> Road traffic accidents kill about 37,000 people a year in the US and
>> 39,000 in Europe, with driver error a contributing factor in over 90 per
>> cent of them. But a glimpse of a safer future has come from a trial,
>> completed in Sweden in 2008, of the Slippery Road Information System 
>> (SRIS).
>> The system used sensors and computers installed in 100 cars to gather
>> information on the use of brakes, fog lights, windscreen wipers and
>> electronic stability systems, as well as local weather conditions. Unlike
>> the Volvo system, in which each car uses only information from its own
>> sensors, the cars in the SRIS trial beamed the data they gathered to a
>> central database every 5 minutes.
>> The study suggested that this pooled data could give drivers a far
>> more accurate picture of road conditions than local weather stations can.
>> Researchers still have to find the best way to merge this information and
>> broadcast it back to drivers. Nevertheless, the study concluded that
>> networks such as SRIS could improve safety and save lives.
>> A more sophisticated system involving shared data is being deployed
>> in Japan this year. The country has become a world leader in the field
>> thanks to the government's decision to fund a network of infrared, 
>> microwave
>> and radio transmitters at the roadside.
>> Around 2 million vehicles on Japanese roads can already pick up news
>> on congestion, roadworks, accidents, weather, speed limits and parking
>> availability from these transmitters, broadcasting as part of the Vehicle
>> Information and Communication System (VICS). Over the next few months,
>> cameras and sensors positioned around 20 major intersections in Tokyo and
>> Kanagawa prefecture will begin alerting drivers of cars with VICS 
>> receivers
>> to potential hazards such as vehicles attempting to merge into their 
>> lane,
>> or traffic crossing an intersection ahead. The new Driving Safety Support
>> System (DSSS), as the set-up is called, can also show alerts on satnav
>> displays warning of traffic lights, stop signs and even pedestrians and
>> cyclists on the road ahead. It will be in use at major intersections
>> nationwide by the middle of 2011.
>> By that time, a similar system designed to operate on major Japanese
>> highways should have been running for a year. Called Smartway, it issues 
>> a
>> warning when the driver gets too close to the vehicle in front, when
>> vehicles are converging from the side, and when there is congestion 
>> ahead.
>> Some new vehicles from Nissan, Toyota and other car makers are already
>> equipped to use DSSS or Smartway. Older cars can access these systems too 
>> if
>> their receivers and satnav displays are upgraded. From here it is just a
>> small step - in technological terms, at least - to allowing cars to be
>> controlled automatically.
>> Calling all cars
>> In Europe and the US, vehicle manufacturers see direct
>> vehicle-to-vehicle communication as a simpler and cheaper solution than
>> building elaborate roadside infrastructure. Their plans envisage using 
>> Wi-Fi
>> links between vehicles to form ad hoc, reconfigurable networks that will
>> share information on road conditions, local weather and traffic 
>> accidents.
>> The most ambitious of these projects, a collaboration between seven
>> European manufacturers and universities, aims to harness 
>> vehicle-to-vehicle
>> networks to make the driver redundant, at least for part of the journey.
>> Called SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), it envisages up to
>> eight cars as little as a metre apart driving in convoy, controlled by a
>> lead vehicle operated by a professional driver.
>> Ordinary drivers will book a place in convoys operating along major
>> roads. As they approach the convoy, they will hand over control of their 
>> car
>> to software on the lead vehicle. From then on, its steering, acceleration
>> and braking are controlled by an on-board computer that uses data sent
>> wirelessly from the lead vehicle, along with information from cameras and
>> radar and laser detectors on the front and rear of the car itself. 
>> Drivers
>> will be able work, read, watch films or even sleep while their cars are
>> driven for them. "It will be like sitting on a bus or a train," says 
>> Ekmark.
>> But when the convoy nears an exit at which drivers wish to leave, they 
>> can
>> resume control and continue their journey.
>> As well as being protected against collisions, cars in a convoy use
>> less fuel than when they are travelling separately, and they take up less
>> road space. At highway cruising speeds, aerodynamic drag can be reduced 
>> by
>> as much as 60 per cent when vehicles are separated by less than one car
>> length. Overall, convoys are predicted to cut fuel use and carbon 
>> emissions
>> by up to 40 per cent.
>> Unlike a previous generation of car trains developed at the
>> University of California, Berkeley, during the 1990s, SARTRE convoys will
>> run on public roads alongside ordinary traffic. The Berkeley project 
>> failed
>> to get off the ground because it required specially built roads, making 
>> the
>> concept prohibitively expensive. If this year's trials of SARTRE planned 
>> for
>> test tracks in Sweden and the UK are successful, a full demonstration -
>> consisting of a lead truck followed by another truck and three cars - is
>> planned for public roads in Spain towards the end of 2011. Before that 
>> can
>> happen, however, the SARTRE consortium must work out how a convoy will
>> interact with other road users. For instance, will it have to break up 
>> when
>> overtaking, and then reform once all its members have passed the slower
>> vehicle?
>> The long journey towards cars that will drive themselves began in
>> 1971 with anti-lock brakes. "That was the first time we introduced the
>> overriding of driver input," says Taub. Another step along the road came
>> with electronic stability control, which governs brakes, steering and
>> throttle to prevent cars going off the road in an uncontrollable skid.
>> Top-of-the range cars are increasingly being fitted not only with 
>> adaptive
>> cruise control but also with lane assistance, which gently applies the
>> brakes to keep cars from straying out of lane.
>> Taub expects these systems to start appearing on cheaper models over
>> the next few years. "We still have the driver in the loop with eyes on 
>> the
>> road, hands on the wheel, feet on the pedals," he points out. "But
>> increasingly the vehicle will be steering and accelerating on its own."
>> What fully autonomous vehicles will be like is hinted at by an
>> experimental car called Boss. Built by a team of engineering students at
>> Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and backed by
>> General Motors, this robotic car scooped a $2 million prize by 
>> outperforming
>> 10 other autonomous vehicles in a simulated urban environment created for
>> the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. To win, Boss had to execute complex
>> manoeuvres such as merging into flowing traffic, overtaking, parking and
>> negotiating intersections, while interacting with other autonomous 
>> vehicles
>> and 30 human-driven ones.
>> Boss's computer builds a model of the immediate environment by
>> processing data from radar, laser sensors, cameras and GPS. It then uses
>> this model, along with information such as local traffic rules, to plan 
>> the
>> best route and provide the situational awareness the vehicle needs for
>> manoeuvres such as changing lanes safely, or to determine whether it has
>> priority at an intersection.
>> Boss uses sensors and other components that are already fitted in
>> production vehicles, but the computing power it uses to handle all the 
>> data
>> is a different matter. It currently requires the equivalent of 10 desktop
>> computers, and miniaturising the electronics so that it can be hidden 
>> away
>> in a normal-sized car remains a challenge. Another task will be to 
>> develop
>> the interfaces between car and driver and find simple ways to switch 
>> control
>> from manual to automatic and back again.
>> Taub predicts that by about 2020 vehicles like Boss will start to
>> appear on public roads; drivers will be able to disengage totally and 
>> hand
>> control over to the car. "You'll see a progression of subsystems, with 
>> costs
>> coming down and increased robustness," he says.
>> At Stanford University in California, the Volkswagen Automotive
>> Innovation Lab has shown what might be possible. VAIL engineers have 
>> fitted
>> a VW Passat with cameras, cruise control radar and laser sensors, 
>> allowing
>> it to navigate a parking lot, spot an empty space and park perfectly, 
>> with
>> or without a driver.
>> Manoeuvring at low speed is one thing, but are we ready to hand over
>> control on the open road? How would you feel about being at the mercy of 
>> a
>> machine barrelling along the highway at 100 kilometres per hour or more,
>> with your family in the back and you merely a passenger at the wheel?
>> Confidence in the reliability of electronic drive-by-wire controls took a
>> knock in January when Toyota had to recall millions of its vehicles. A 
>> few
>> accidents involving autonomous vehicles could set the whole idea back 
>> years.
>> Automated manoeuvring at low speed is one thing, but are we ready to
>> hand over control on the open road?
>> Though advances in communications and connectivity have transformed
>> our world, it is still not easy to envisage a highway network populated 
>> by
>> cars that drive themselves more safely than any human can. Yet if Ekmark 
>> and
>> Taub are right, the next generation of vehicles will be able to do just
>> that. The real question may be whether we will have the nerve to take our
>> hands off the wheel and let the machines take over.
>> Early adopters
>> Who wants to pay to be first with a technology that only works when
>> lots of other people already have it? That is likely to be the big 
>> problem
>> facing car-to-car networks once the technical questions have been sorted
>> out.
>> One way to minimise this problem is to make the equipment cheap to
>> retrofit into existing vehicles. General Motors has demonstrated a system
>> called V2V, which costs less than $200 to install. It uses GPS and Wi-Fi 
>> to
>> warn drivers of hazards such as vehicles in blind spots.
>> Others see the cellphone network as the key. Cellphone operator
>> Orange is one of six UK organisations in a partnership called Sentience,
>> which is developing a low-cost system based on GPS-enabled smartphones. 
>> The
>> system acquires and combines information from topographical maps and 
>> traffic
>> data in order to control a vehicle's brakes and accelerator. In tests, 
>> the
>> Sentience system reduced fuel consumption by up to 24 per cent over that 
>> of
>> a car driven normally.
>> Another approach was highlighted at the Cooperative Mobility
>> conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in March, when the European
>> Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS) consortium showed off 
>> its
>> universal communications system. This allows vehicles to swap information
>> with each other and with networks using 3G, GSM, infrared or wireless
>> protocols, and to switch seamlessly between these modes. CVIS is 
>> providing
>> developers with kits to help them create services to run on its
>> open-architecture platform.
>> Later this year CVIS plans to unveil an in-car touchscreen
>> applications unit. CVIS coordinator Paul Kompfner envisages a
>> smartphone-like interface that will offer drivers a range of apps 
>> depending
>> on their location. One app under development communicates with 
>> traffic-light
>> control systems and tells drivers what speed they should travel at to 
>> pass
>> without hitting red.
>> Another app, to be tested later this year in Poland and the
>> Netherlands, allows trucks to take priority by controlling traffic lights 
>> as
>> they get near. "If you give priority to trucks it is not just the trucks
>> that gain - overall traffic efficiency and flow are improved," says 
>> project
>> manager Zeljko Jeftic.
>> Nic Fleming is a science and technology writer based in London
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