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Intelligent cars, computerized roads: The future of personal travel

April 8, 2013 7:49pm

Tags: Motoring
Many born in the last two decades of the previous century have fond memories of the ultra-cool artificially intelligent car KITT from the cult hit television show, Knight Rider. But what the creators of the show perhaps did not anticipate is a future far stranger and more amazing than anything they had envisioned.

 
 
Intelligent roads
 
Los Angeles, notorious for its traffic problems, may be getting an overhaul courtesy of the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control System, which had just recently been installed in the city, according to the BBC.

Costing $400 million, this technology will synchronize traffic lights by measuring traffic flow using a series of sensors and cameras. Information will then be fed to a centralized computer system, which will perform constant adjustment to the city’s 4,400 lights to keep traffic running as efficiently as possible.

Theoretically, getting from one place to another in the city can be done without ever having to stop your car. It will also improve travel speed by an estimated 16% and reduce journey times by 12%.
 
“By synchronizing our traffic signals we will spend less time waiting, and less time polluting,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
 
Though the city has only finished installing the system now, it was in fact started in 1984. Despite its innovative method of tackling traffic quandaries, this system will be rendered archaic if what engineers are planning ever come into fruition. 
 
The Minority Report’s highways, minus Tom Cruise
 
Imagine a future in which cars are packed nose to tail while traveling at breakneck speeds. Traffic lights and lane markings will be nonexistent, as cars speed unhesitatingly through unmarked junctions and weave from one side of the road to the other with no warning.
 
And all us human beings have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. No pesky driving test or license required.
 
Is this all just inspired science fiction? Not so, according to scientists and engineers.
 
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) of the United States predicts that by 2040, 75% of all road vehicles will be driverless. While Google’s self-driving car and other such vehicles offer us a glimpse into this kind of future, some cities, eager to turn this seemingly fantastical idea into a reality, are already conducting small-scale trials of linked-up roads. 
 
While cars moving at ridiculous speeds with less than a few feet of space between them sounds like a recipe for disaster, an intelligent road network coupled with intelligent vehicles can potentially eliminate gridlock and road accidents. In this future world, traffic flow will be governed by data. Intelligent vehicles will know where they are in relation to the vehicles around them.  No longer will we have to rely on traffic lights and our faulty human senses.
 
“In the future smart intersections may not need lights,” said IEEE’s director of the Center for Intelligent System Research, Azim Eskandarian. “These intersections will very efficiently harmonize and synchronize speeds in one direction, and then the other.”
 
This vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication will allow cars to feed information to a central command center, such as their destination, the route they plan to take, and their current position. The central command will accumulate all this data across a metropolis, allowing it to plan traffic loads and optimize volume along the roads. It will then send this information back to the vehicles, so that they know when it is safe to perform specific actions, such as entering intersections, making U-turns, or maintaining speed to minimize stop-star driving. In a way, it is more complex and extremely larger version of Los Angeles’ Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control System.
 
Pixar’s “Cars”, minus the creepy giant eyes
 
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication will also be available, enabling cars to “talk” to each other. With information flowing freely between them, cars will be able to match their speeds while driving shoulder-to-shoulder and nose-to-tail. They will be able to tell each other when one is going to perform a specific action, such as braking, allowing others to make decisions that will prevent road accidents. This will maximize safety as cars will be closely monitoring their surroundings nonstop, taking into consideration their positions relative to other cars and other potential hazards. Cars will also be linked together even at the fastest speeds, making travel on highways safer and more efficient space and speed-wise.
 
With cars having sophisticated sensors, radars, and laser-range finders to accurately determine their own positions on the road, lane markings will also become a thing of the past.
 
Current projects
 
A group of car manufacturers in the USA, called the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium, is already developing specific protocols and applications for the intelligent road system. In the town of Ann Arbor just outside of Detroit, researchers have equipped 29 intersections with instruments allowing them to manipulate traffic lights for the purpose of making the traffic flow more smoothly. 
 
As for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, this technology has actually already been in development for some time. In 1999, the United States Congress had a section of the 5.9 GHz radio frequency band – already being utilized for wireless communication – reserved for this specific purpose.

Applications are currently being developed by a number of manufacturers. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an EU-run consortium called Satre has demonstrated chains of vehicles with as little as 4m between them traveling at speeds of up to 90km/h. This shows that autonomous cars traveling closely together at great speeds is indeed a possibility.
 
The Ann Arbor project is also working on a type of application that lets cars give their drivers audible warnings of imminent danger. For example, the car will tell the driver if the car in front of him suddenly breaks and he fails to notice it. The same goes for changing lanes, moving into junctions and turning blind corners.
 
“When multiple vehicles are communicating with each other, when there is slowing, there is plenty of time to communicate that to cars behind so they can start braking earlier,” Professor Eskandarian said. The potential for saving lives by preventing car crashes is staggering.
 
No license required?
 
What use is a driver’s license when this combination of intelligent cars and computerized roads will be doing the driving for humans?
 
“All you need is to be able to operate something like a GPS to input your origin and destination, and the rest will be taken care of autonomously,” said Professor Eskandarian. “We don’t need a pilot’s licence to ride on an aircraft.”
 
As with any new technology, people will most likely view this new system with suspicion. Aside from this, the cost of building such an infrastructure will be huge. Governments will have to make enormous investments to make it possible.
 
Professor Eskandarian, however, is optimistic that people will gradually accept the technology, once they experience for themselves the benefits it has to offer. — TJD, GMA News
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Tags: Motoring



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