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

Fred Olver goodfolks at charter.net
Wed Apr 7 02:28:43 UTC 2010

Thank you, Susan.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Susan Ford" <johnsusanford at earthlink.net>
To: "NFB of Missouri Mailing List" <nfbmo at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 8:22 PM
Subject: Re: [Nfbmo] Fw: [Missouri-l] Fw: [Quietcars] New Scientist 
articleoncars thatdrive themselves

> 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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