Humans make terrible drivers. Research shows we’re panic-prone, unpredictable and slow to react behind the wheel. Now a new breed of robot cars promises to eliminate human error for safer roads, less traffic and major fuel savings
By Lawrence UlrichPosted 04.11.2010 at 1:07 pm 0 Comments
Step One: Prove Robot Cars Can Handle the Worst
This fall, a driverless Audi TTS will attempt to race up Pikes Peak. If a robot can ace this harrowing mountain run, your daily commute could be next
When an Audi TTS roars to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado later this year, it will rumble over 12.4 dusty miles, navigating 156 hairpin turns at up to 90 mph, a speed only a pro racer would attempt. Yet Audi won’t have to hire one: The TTS will make the perilous ascent without a human at the wheel.
A fully autonomous pod similar to the general motors “PUMA” concept, this urban commuter does all the work for the driver. The ability to get more power out of smaller batteries and engines will let even the smallest micro-vehicles contain generous cabin space, making for a more comfortable and productive ride to work.
The seat sits higher than in a standard car, providing high visibility all around. The front windscreen serves as the door and opens vertically, blocking rain or snow as the driver enters the vehicle.
I've always loved taking pictures from the road when I travel, but on returning home I often had no idea where I had shot many of them. The only way to figure it out was by placing them on a timeline and working backward through my route. Recently I found a way to make it easier. I mounted a Canon digital camera on the dashboard of my car, installed software on it that enables it to automatically shoot pictures every few seconds or minutes, and set up a GPS unit to record the location of each shot.
If you're like most people, there's a thought that runs through your mind anytime you're checking into a flight, passing through airport security, changing terminals at the last minute, trying to sort out a missed connection, or standing close to anything an airline has touched: "There has to be a better way to do this." And you would be right. Southwest Airlines took a big step toward the future of commercial flight this week by implementing GPS satellite-guided landings.
Distracted drivers may soon get some warnings from their windshield displays about road hazards such as children playing in the street or vehicles in the driver's blind spot. General Motors has teamed up with university researchers to bring the concept to market around 2016, the New York Times reports.
Looking for open parking spaces in the city is one of the more teeth-grinding rituals for drivers, but researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey may have hit upon a relatively low-cost solution. They combined ultrasonic sensors with GPS to create digital maps of available parking spaces for Web-based navigation systems, according to Technology Review.
GPS may now reside in everything from our cars to our smart phones, but it once all began as a military application. So it's perhaps ironic, if not entirely shocking, that the head of the U.S. Air Force said today that the military needs to wean itself off dependence on a GPS network vulnerable to jamming and satellite-killing vehicles. DOD Buzz reports that officials have confirmed that GPS has been "jammed or interfered with recently."
Give the National Weather Service some credit for some clever crowdsourcing experiments. It has just launched a Twitter-based program to monitor tweets about severe weather, and hopes to eventually transform cars into mobile weather stations, Discovery News reports.
Millisecond pulsars left in the wake of supernovas could provide the basis for a type of "galactic GPS," radio astronomers say. A growing constellation of known pulsars could allow the scientists to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves -- a predicted consequence of Einstein's relativity theory. The concept might even help guide future spacecraft and explorers, not to mention errant galactic hitchhikers.