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.
Before car computers totally take over the task of driving they will continue to gain more capabilities for accident avoidance. The latest: use of wireless technology so that car computers can know distances and velocity and collision risk of nearby cars.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication—known as "V2V" in the industry—is eagerly anticipated because it could help reduce crashes. The Wi-Fi signals, which go out in all directions, would act like an alert passenger, warning the driver that another car is about to run a red light or that there's a motorcycle in the blind spot. U.S. government researchers estimate that V2V would let drivers avoid or make less serious around 80 percent of collisions.
Just like anti-lock brakes (ABS) and other car risk reduction technologies anything that works well enough will eventually become mandated by regulatory agencies. So perhaps in 10 or 15 years cars will all come with WiFi transmitters and receivers that work to detect dangerous approaches between cars.
One can imagine street lights continuously broadcasting not just their current settings but also when they will change. This will enable better calculations of collision risks.
I expect another benefit: cars approaching a street light will signal asking for a green. If the street light doesn't get similar signals from the cross street it will change to give the green to the approaching car. Newer cars would then again an advantage in getting thru street lights.
A Technology Review article looks at the advantages of self-driving cars.
Several automakers are developing technology to let cars drive themselves, mainly as a way to make driving more convenient and improve safety. But it could also significantly reduce gasoline consumption, says Nady Boules, the director of GM's Electrical and Controls Integration Lab.
Robotic cars would reduce gasoline consumption by making electric cars more economically viable in a number of ways:
Autonomous vehicles will also allow non-drivers to get around even in areas with population densities too low to support mass transit. They'll also free up time for people to work. Plus, autonomous vehicles will displace much of mass transit since they won't require the expensive labor of the bus drive and they will go when people want to go and where people want to go. I expect autonomous cars to make the Zipcar short term car rental model much more viable by getting cars to where people want to start from. Basically, Zipcar will become like a taxi service but at much lower cost.
I think autonomous self-driving vehicles are inevitable. They'll enable many conveniences such as grocery stores that pack vehicles to deliver food. Much lower delivery costs will cut traffic as vehicles do drop-offs at several homes per trip. At the same time, cars will function as automated taxis so that owning a car will become unnecessary for many without the inconveniences of mass transit.
Drive by thinking. Brain reading speeds car braking.
This is what German researchers have successfully simulated, as reported in the Journal of Neural Engineering. With electrodes attached to the scalps and right legs of drivers in a driving simulator, they used both electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) respectively to detect the intent to brake. These electrical signals were seen 130 milliseconds before drivers actually hit the brakes—enough time to reduce the braking distance by nearly four meters.
Problem: Drivers will start slightly delaying their decision to apply the brakes as the brakes respond more quickly. One can imagine this system would still improve safety when a kid runs out in the street. But a Wired piece finds researchers on semi-autonomous vehicles are concerned that improved computer assists for drivers make drivers more complacent and therefore more dangerous.
Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University who studies multitasking, put it more bluntly. “People are always happy to be lazy, and it’s sort of a rule of safety design,” he said. “So if you give people the slightest opportunity to be lazy, they’ll take to it with great gusto and joy.” This is especially true for frequent multitaskers — and most apparent with young people, whose brains have developed to crave new information.
The challenge becomes how to make all the computer driving assists really deliver a net improvement in driver performance. The article discusses how to keep the driver engaged even as computers do more of the driving work.
The science fiction future is going to become the real future in the lives of many people reading this. In an effort to build a practical robotic car Google hired a Stanford researcher who led a team that won the DARPA robotic car contest in 2005. A Google team led by this researcher has developed a robotic car system that has already logged many miles with cars under robotic control on real city streets and highways.
With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.
The article is worth reading in full. Truly amazing. Google researchers believe the cars are already legal because human drivers can take over control of the computer system starts to make wrong decisions.
The researchers think such a car is at least 8 years away from deployment. I see both legal (who is responsible in event of an accident) and engineering challengers for its release. Among the engineering challenges: How to test under a wide enough range of conditions that one can know the computers will always make the right decision? This is a far more difficult challenge than the verification and validation of airplane automatic pilots because the variations in ground conditions are much more numerous.
A robotic car could refuse to go somewhere off known roads under its own control. But conditions on known roads could change in ways that make them unknown. For example, floods could wash out a road section or construction workers could build in detour strips around road pieces being reworked. These sorts of conditions would need to be recognized and the car would need to start insisting that manual control be resumed.
Likely in 10 or 20 years robotic cars will take over much of the work of driving. When that happens accident rates and death rates will go down. After a much longer time of development and use a more mature robotic car capability will enable even non-drivers to be taken places. Among the occupations that will get automated out of existence: taxi drivers. This will lower the cost of taxis and shift more rides to taxis and away from cars owned by individuals. This probably will lead to a reduction in car ownership.
Automation will also reduce the demand for truck drivers and delivery vehicle drivers. The receivers of goods will have to do their own unloading. Do-it-yourself unloading delivery will compete by offering lower prices. I expect this to eventually make home grocery delivery commonplace. Robots in local warehouses (using lots of technologies and business practices already getting developed) will pack trucks with food and other products for a delivery route once enough people signal they are ready to accept deliveries. Therefore fewer trips will be made to stores.
To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History.
Safety has been our first priority in this project. Our cars are never unmanned. We always have a trained safety driver behind the wheel who can take over as easily as one disengages cruise control. And we also have a trained software operator in the passenger seat to monitor the software. Any test begins by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance. And we’ve briefed local police on our work.
So Google, as usual, hired the best and is playing a key role in transforming another part of our lives.
Retiring (again) 78 year old GM executive Bob Lutz says cars in the future will be totally automated pods that form into chains. The romance of handling the thundering horsepower under the hood is going to come to an end.
Lutz has a vision for the future of transportation, and it's not necessarily a car guy's dream.
I say this without a great deal of joy, OK, but it's going to be individual transportation pods that are charging in your garage. You hit one of your normal programs, like your "go to work" program. And the thing goes out into the street--GPS-guided or wire-guided--blends into traffic, consolidates, goes to some sort of mass-transit station, converges onto a train and parks itself along with all the other little modules. At some station, your module gets off. There will be no driver involvement.
The automobile is a transient stage in the evolution of mankind's ability to transport oneself to any other place rapidly. And, ultimately, as we evolve, I think physical travel will become less and less important. Because if you can bring 95 percent of the experience in virtually--in, let's say, a 360-degree, full-screen, three-dimensional environment--you get 95 percent of the experience instantaneously. The need to travel goes down drastically. And ultimately I don't think humanity is going to be able to afford a situation where every citizen of the Earth has a car and is zooming around all over the place on concrete highways. It's just not going to work, and at some point it's going to stop.
The interview provides some insights into what went wrong with bureaucratic General Motors. Worth reading in full.
Researchers in the European Union are using telematics to create “road trains” that join the benefits of carpooling with the freedom of driving alone.
The latest concept, part of the EU’s Safe Road Trains for the Environment initiative, groups cars with similar destinations into road trains over long stretches of highway. The lead vehicle will be driven by an experienced motorist — it may even be a bus that regularly travels the route — while the functions of each following vehicle will be automatically controlled and tethered to the actions of the lead car so that individual drivers can hammer out e-mails or eat breakfast.
Unfortunately I see big legal liability issues with any proposal to totally automate driving. What if the one driver makes a mistake? Or what if a car in the train suffers a mechanical failure? Or what if one of the car computers suffers a failure or a software bug? The technology could be much safer than conventional driving. But when the inevitable accident happens so do the lawsuits. Do lawsuits pose less of an obstacle in Europe?
The energy savings from this approach would be considerable because people wouldn't hit the brakes more than needed. Also, brakes would even last longer.
A Stanford professor provides evidence that automated computer car voices shouldn't nag or criticize.
That computer masquerading as a person, seemingly residing somewhere in your car, might be interested in more than mere facts. As it gets to know your voice, your facial expressions (from an onboard camera) and your style, it could adapt its conversation to your mood, just as a human passenger would. If the computer behind the synthetic voice sensed that you were tense, as the car's sensors were silently warning the computer that your driving was becoming erratic, the voice might attempt to calm you down. It would project just the right tone and employ the perfect turn of phrase.
In tests of volunteers driving automobile simulators in the lab, researchers put their subjects into stressful situations and tested out potential responses from the voice. For example, some drivers received a reproachful warning: "You're not driving very well and you need to pay more attention."
"Well, you won't be shocked to learn that people got angry and actually drove worse," laughed Nass as he told the story. As the voice ratcheted up its rhetoric ("You really need to be more careful!"), the driving deteriorated further. Finally, when the voice began insisting that the drivers pull over to the side of the road, they responded by getting into accidents.
In a 2007 study, Nass, doctoral student Helen Harris, and undergraduates Kyle Davis, David Diaz and Brooke Sullivan searched for ways to help people control their emotions in the car in a study called "Car-tharsis." In a frustrating situation, a soothing voice from the car might sympathize with your predicament: "Don't worry. There will be a chance to pass the truck." The unspoken message? You don't need to get upset. Or if you got cut off in traffic, the car might simply do the yelling for you: "Learn to drive!" or "You idiot!"
Maybe the car should answer questions by playing excerpts of songs that encapsulate what the computer wants to say. In that case I expect people who think they are going to be late for an appointment due to a traffic jam should hear "Don't worry, be happy".
Depressed people want depressed cars. I can believe this from personal experience. When I was depressed as an adolescent I used to like to listen to Neil Young's album On The Beach. It was more depressing than me and it made me feel better by comparison.
Depressed drivers drive better when their car speaks as if it, too, were feeling down. "If you're in a really bad mood, do you want a bouncy person around?"
Drivers can trust a local AI built into their car. But they don't trust a centralized Borg AI talking to them through their car.
Drivers feel more engaged with the computer voice if they believe the computer is installed in their car, as opposed to a wireless connection to a distant computer. As a result, they disclose more information to the in-car computer and drive faster.
As we design computer systems to make us do what their designers decided are the best behaviors from us we are effectively designing computer systems to manipulate us. I suspect that the first AIs deployed into widespread use will therefore possess enormous skills for manipulating humans. The ability to automate efforts to manipulate us will make us more manipulated and controlled by computer systems.
I've previously argued that any automated car safety technology that reduces deaths will become required by governments including eventually robotic driving once it becomes safer than human driving. Well, let me add some more reasons why governments will mandate robotic driving: Automatic control of groups of cars going down a freeway will increase fuel efficiency and reduce traffic jams.
An automated way of allowing cars to drive much closer to each other in heavy moving traffic, so-called platooning, could cut congestion, save fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to research published today in Inderscience's International Journal of the Environment and Pollution.
Don't you just hate it when in heavy traffic one guy hits his breaks and then cars behind hit theirs even harder as they see brake lights and suddenly a lump of cars has slowed way down? If a long line of cars ran under computer coordination this cause of traffic slow-downs could be greatly reduced.
As populations grow and the number of vehicles on the roads in cities and motorways across Europe, North America and the developing world, rises, traditional ways of tackling the problem, such as simply building more roads or improving public transport are becoming less and less effective. "Automated highway systems are one of the many approaches that have been suggested to tackle the problems," says Mitra.
Traffic is a growing problem across the globe with the number of vehicles on the on the roads in Britain alone having risen from 26 million to almost 33 million in the last decade and that number set to rise by 25% over the next ten years. The problem is burgeoning in areas of enormous economic growth, such as China and India where countless new vehicles are pulling out and entering the traffic flow on newly built roads. With all that new traffic, of course, comes more pollution, and the need for ever more innovative approaches to tackling it.
Technologies that are a step in this direction already have reached the market under the title of autonomous (or active or adaptive or intelligent) cruise control where a laser or radar on the front of a car detects other cars in front driving at lower speeds and the cruise control slows the car to run at the same speed as the car in front of it. This is still an expensive luxury option.
Computers that communicate between cars to coordinate acceleration could do a much better job of avoiding the need for any car to hit the brakes in the first place. Cars could run more closely together if they were far less likely to do unpredictable things.
IBM calls the research initiative collaborative driving, and the company says it's designed to prevent accidents and reduce traffic congestion. The work will be spearheaded by the IBM lab in Haifa, Israel. "More than a million people die on the roads every year around the world, and people waste a lot of time and money sitting in traffic jams," says IBM researcher Oleg Goldshmidt. "You would like to help with both problems in any way possible."
Humans are too error-prone behind the wheel. Slowly but surely driving is getting automated.
Every time a piece of safety equipment becomes fairly cheap the United States government and governments of other highly industrialized nations have moved to require the use of that equipment. When automated operation of cars by embedded computers becomes safer than human driving will governments move to require installation of such artificially intelligent (AI) computer systems in all new cars? Will governments eventually go even further and some day even ban the operation of cars and trucks by humans?
The US government is going to mandate computer-controlled features to help maintain vehicle control. Electronic anti-lock brakes (ABS) and other computer-controlled means to keep tire traction on the road will become mandatory in the United States for all new cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is set to announce a preliminary regulation requiring electronic stability control technology on all new vehicles.
I predict the US government will require all new cars be constructed to support fully automated operation within 20 to 30 years.
Auto companies think automated systems for avoiding loss of driving control are more important than air bags for reducing accidents, injuries, and deaths.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated in a report in June that as many as 10,000 deaths a year could be prevented if all vehicles were equipped with the feature. Auto companies have said the systems are more critical in preventing deaths than air bags, which are credited with saving 1,200 lives per year.
Many computer-assisted driving technologies are hitting the market. All these technologies will become more advanced and lower in cost in coming decades. Toyota is moving from radar to optical (i.e. light-based) sensors to detect and automatically try to avoid crashes into road obstacles such as pedestrians.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Denso Corp. collaborated with NEC to implement the chip in autos. It was adopted as an image-processing unit for a pre-crash safety system for Toyota's Lexus LS460 to be introduced in the fall. Toyota already offered a pre-crash safety system that employs milliwave radar.
The new Lexus LS460 with the image processors will automatically slam on the brakes a split second before hitting a pedestrian or vehicle and prevent a collision or reduce impact.
Systems that monitor driver wakefulness and attention are also starting to hit the market. Cameras aimed at drivers try to alert drivers when they are not paying attention and an obstacle looms.
And if all the coddling means your attention wanders, there is a camera checking the driver's eyes are on the road.
Lexus' Pedro Pacheco says: "In the event that there is an obstacle in front of the car and the driver is at the same time looking at the side of the road, the system will sound a warning to alert the driver.
I've also read proposals to have cars automatically detect whether a person has been drinking alcohol and is too drunk to operate a car.
Dr. Grace, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor, is CEO of Attention Technologies Inc., which just started marketing a Driver Fatigue Monitor -- a dashboard-mounted camera that measures how often a sleepy driver's eyes close at night and then sets off a warning alarm.
Attention Technologies is one of two local companies that have developed anti-drowsiness monitors.
The other is AssistWare Technology Inc., another Carnegie Mellon spinoff that is selling a forward-mounted camera that sets off an alarm when a vehicle veers out of its lane or wanders erratically within the lane.
GÖTEBORG, Sweden (November 30, 2005) – Volvo Car Corporation is taking a decisive new step toward helping drivers avoid vehicle collisions with its new Volvo Driver Alert system, technology designed to monitor a vehicle's progress on the road and alert the driver if it detects signs of fatigue or distraction. The system helps drivers make the right decision, rather than taking control of the vehicle.
The company intends to patent the Driver Alert technology and plans to make the system available in Volvo vehicles within two years.
Driver fatigue is a major traffic safety problem around the world. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 100,000 collisions are caused every year on American highways by drivers who fall asleep. Fifteen hundred of the collisions result in fatalities and a further 71,000 lead to physical injuries. In Europe, the situation is very similar: the German Insurance Association – GDV (Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V.) – estimates that 25 per cent of all fatal collisions on German roads are caused by fatigue.
Safe motoring in style means maintaining maximum attention also on long distances. And this is precisely why BMW Group engineers have developed an assistance system helping the driver to avoid situations where they begin to lose their attention and awareness. Lane Departure Warning therefore informs the driver in good time of any unattended deviation from the car’s proper course, telling the driver through clear signals to countersteer and move back in the desired direction. This serves to avoid driving errors resulting from lack of concentration on traffic conditions.
Adaptive Cruise Control is a new technology that automatically adjusts vehicle speed to maintain a driver-selected distance from the vehicle ahead in the same lane. This next generation of cruise control uses forward-looking radar, installed behind the grill of a vehicle, to detect the speed and distance of the vehicle ahead of it, and then automatically adjusts your speed accordingly.
How does it work? The radar headway sensor sends information to a digital signal processor, which in turn translates the speed and distance information for a longitudinal controller. The result? If the lead vehicle slows down, or if another object is detected, the system sends a signal to the engine or braking system to decelerate. Then, when the road is clear, the system will re-accelerate the vehicle back to the set speed.
BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler AG and Toyota Motor Corp. are among the makers of premium models that are starting to market cars that automate many parts of the driving experience: self-parking cars (with the driver inside or out); parking guidance systems (for the less-lazy driver); enhanced cruise-control systems that work in stop-and-go-traffic and maintain a safe distance between cars; and warning systems that tell you when you've strayed from your lane.
Brakes and gas pedals are not the only parts of cars which are coming under partial computer car. Automotive engineers are also targetting control of the steering wheel. Mercedes has just introduced a radar-based parking assistance technology as an option in their CL-class cars.
First, the parking guidance system automatically uses side mounted radar sensors to monitor whether the space on either the driver or passenger side is adequate to park the vehicle. If it is, the dashboard displays a "P" icon, alerting the driver to the fact a suitable space is available.
Once the driver stops the vehicle and changes to reverse gear, the instrument cluster then displays a bird's eye view of the parking situation along with guide lines showing how best to park. Red lines indicate the current steering angle, while yellow lines show the steering angle needed. As the driver turns the steering wheel and the two lines coincide, they then combine to form green lines, alerting the driver that he is now in the appropriate angle to reverse.
Finally, as the driver is reversing, an audible signal gives notice when it's time to countersteer, perfectly situating them and their new coupe in that ordinarily too-tight-to-fit-in parking space.
You can see where all this is going. As optical and radar sensors and computers drop in price and become more powerful and as software algorithms become more sophisticated computers are going to gradually take over more driving tasks from truck and car drivers. Computers will become better than drivers and computer-operated cars will become safer than human-operated cars.
Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey foresees a human future where biotechnologies allow us to live in eternal youth and never grow old. Once we reach that future accidents, murder, and suicide will become the major causes of death. Aubrey expects political movements will successfuly bring about a ban on cars in order to reduce death from accidents. I do not think most governments and polities will go down that path. More likely computers will make car operation so incredibly safe and accidents so rare that cars will not have much impact on average longevity.
Update: Skepticism about the feasibility of computer-operated vehicles became harder to maintain when the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Grand Challenge periodic contest for autonomous driverless vehicles finally produced winners in October 2005.
A robotic Volkswagen called “Stanley”, developed by a team from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, won a $2 million prize on Sunday for winning a tough desert race of driverless vehicles.
And in a stunning improvement on 2004’s Grand Challenge, when no car completed more than 5% of the course, four other vehicles also finished. The 212-kilometre race across the Nevada desert is set by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
It says something about the rate of advance of the underlying technologies that so many contestants could all suddenly achieve the needed capability in the same year.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced plans to hold its third Grand Challenge competition on November 3, 2007.
The DARPA Urban Challenge will feature autonomous ground vehicles executing simulated military supply missions safely and effectively in a mock urban area. Safe operation in traffic is essential to U.S. military plans to use autonomous ground vehicles to conduct important missions.
DARPA will award prizes for the top three autonomous ground vehicles that compete in a final event where they must safely complete a 60-mile urban area course in fewer than six hours. First prize is $2 million, second prize is $500,000 and third prize is $250,000. To succeed, vehicles must autonomously obey traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles.
Does anyone doubt this challenge will be conquered within 5 years?