October 14, 2012
Computers Gradually Taking Over More Driving Decisions

Collision avoidance systems are already available as an option on some cars. If you can afford such systems then get them on your next car. Remember my motto: first, don't die.

The second highest cause of automobile crashes is rear-end collisions 17 percent. Thousands of people die. The solution? "It is simple," said Clay Gabler, a professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech. "Slow the striking vehicle."

The concept is simple. Execution is complex and expensive. But in a life-and-death scenario, it is worth the investment, agree Gabler and Kristofer Kusano of Herndon, Va., a doctoral student in mechanical engineering. In affiliation with the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest Center for Injury Biomechanics and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, they are conducting research on the potential benefit of a suite of collision avoidance systems now available as options on some new cars.

We aren't jumping directly from the human-operated car to the computer-operated car. Rather, a progression of successively more powerful computers are gradually taking over more driving decisions, especially in more dangerous situations. One of the first such, anti-lock braking systems (or ABS), really enhanced the performance of the car to carry out the driver's intent. Ditto with Electronic Stability Control (ESC). But automated collision avoidance systems take an important step beyond ABS or ESC by deciding on their own to attempt to avoid a collision. So this is a Rubicon of sorts. We are going to start letting computers to initiate some driving decisions.

Not surprisingly, computers can do a faster and better job at deciding to take steps to avoid a collision. How about slashing serious injuries and deaths by 50%?

Their research, which has been published in peer-reviewed journals, predicts that the use of three systems may reduce serious injuries by 50 percent.

Gabler and Kusano are looking at three systems that can operate independently or in sequence to prevent or mitigate a front collision. They have looked at one generic system that begins with a warning 1.7 seconds before a potential crash. Once alerted, if the driver begins to apply the brakes, there is brake assistance. "The car says, 'Let me show you how to do it more effectively and applies the necessary braking force'," said Gabler.

Finally, 0.45 seconds before the collision, the car will add 0.6 G to the braking effort, or if there is no braking, will apply the brakes autonomously.

20 years from now it would not surprise me if car accident deaths are 90+% lower than they are now and humans make few driving decisions. It'll be the old cars that are responsible for most road deaths and the cry will be heard to either force those cars off the road or upgrade their electronics to put them under computer control.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 October 14 11:28 AM  Robotics Cars

cathy said at October 14, 2012 12:46 PM:

Sure hope this happens - 20 years from now is about the time I should probably give up my car keys.

PacRim Jim said at October 15, 2012 12:31 AM:

Lawyers are salivating at the prospect of suing computers.

Brett Bellmore said at October 15, 2012 6:09 PM:

I would place air bags on the *exterior* of the vehicle, to be autonomously actuated at the optimum moment before the collision, so that the vehicles' "crush zone" would begin several feet beyond the outside of the car. That moment would come after the point where any conceivable braking effort would avert a collision, and so would not be usurping the driver's control. This would have the further advantage of cushioning impacts between vehicles and pedestrians.

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