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

Susan Ford johnsusanford at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 7 01:22:39 UTC 2010

That was a very interesting article.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Fred Olver" <goodfolks at charter.net>
To: <nfbmi-talk at nfbnet.org>; "NFB of Missouri Mailing List" 
<nfbmo at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Monday, April 05, 2010 1:54 PM
Subject: [Nfbmo] Fw: [Missouri-l] Fw: [Quietcars] New Scientist article 
oncars thatdrive themselves

> ----- 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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