Future car technologies – Advanced control

This is the final part of the Future Car Technologies series of articles.

In order to make highways safer, it has been proposed that future cars should be grouped into platoons of eight to twenty-five cars and drive as one following each other at a distance of about a meter. They would all be controlled by an artificial intelligence or a lead driver (which ideally would be the most experienced of the whole group). Such a grouping would greatly increasing the capacity of roads.

Brief assessment of the technology

Such a technology might require buying new cars, or it may be something that can be retrofitted. Drivers would probably need a special license endorsement on account of the new skills required and the added responsibility when driving in the lead.

Potential benefits:

  • Greater fuel economy due to reduced air resistance.
  • Reduced congestion on the roads.
  • Substantially shorter commutes during peak periods.
  • On longer highway trips, vehicles could be mostly unattended whilst in following mode.

Potential downsides:

  • Drivers would feel less in control of their own driving, being at the hands of computer software, or the lead driver

How does it work?

One concept requires the roadway to have small magnetized stainless-steel spikes driven one meter apart in its center. The spikes can have either magnetic north or magnetic south facing up. Therefore the roadway can provide a small amount of digital data describing interchanges, recommended speeds, etc. A car driving over the spikes would sense them and receive that information which could be used by an artificial intelligence to effectively drive the car on its own without much human intervention.

The cars organize themselves into platoons of eight to twenty-five cars. The platoons drive themselves a meter apart, so that air resistance is minimized. The distance between platoons is equivalent to the conventional braking distance. If anything goes wrong, the maximum number of harmed cars should be one platoon.

Early developments

The first automated vehicle was built in 1962 by a team from The Ohio State University led by Dr. Robert E. Fenton. It is believed to be the first land vehicle to contain a computer. Steering, braking and speed were controlled through the onboard electronics, which filled the trunk, back seat and most of the front of the passenger side of the car.

The PATH project, a prototype automated highway system, was tested in San Diego County, California in 1991 along Interstate 15. Unfortunately the funding of the project was discontinued.

The SARTRE Project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), is a European Commission funded project investigating implementation of platooning on unmodified European motorways. Begun in September 2009, the three year project successfully tested a two vehicle platoon in January 2011.

Links to the other articles in this series

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