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Self-driving vehicles take first steps toward reality
Dream autos must have ability to sense their surroundings
By Nick Bunkley / The Detroit News

DEARBORN — After a long week at work, the last thing you need is to battle Friday evening traffic on Interstate 75 for the hourlong drive that used to take 20 minutes.

So you hop in the car, tell it you’re heading home, and relax with a novel until you pull into the driveway.

It’s a scenario that has been dreamed about for decades — and one that auto industry experts agree is now close to becoming reality. Automakers are beginning to outfit their vehicles with technologies that are the first steps toward self-driving cars.

“We’re entering the world now of what we call smart driver assistance,” said Alan Taub, executive director of research and development at General Motors Corp. “That will give us the learning curve toward what eventually will be autonomous driving.”

Exactly when driving can mean nothing more than sitting back and watching the scenery whiz by is unknown. But GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, in an article he wrote for Fortune magazine last month, said that day could arrive in less than two decades.

“Someday soon,” Lutz said, “you’ll be able to start the car, punch in the appropriate settings, then swivel the front seats around and play cards and eat lunch as if you’re riding on a train.”

And if the prospect of barreling down the highway surrounded by driverless cars sounds frightening, think of what goes on in many vehicles today. At least the cars and occupants won’t be distracted by yakking on a cell phone, tending to kids in the back seat or putting on makeup, experts point out.

Cars that can control themselves and even communicate with each other are also expected to reduce congestion by determining the most efficient route, merging properly and avoiding accidents.

Originally posted by SIDEBAR: Emerging auto technology


Automakers and suppliers are developing ways to engineer the self-driven car or truck. A look at some of the features:

Implemented by 2007

* Adaptive cruise control: Changes vehicle's speed to stay a fixed distance behind car ahead on a highway.

* Lane-departure warnings: Alerts driver when car crosses lane markings.

* Blind-spot detection: Senses objects near vehicle that driver can't see in mirrors.

* Parking aid: Alerts driver when vehicle nears other cars or objects.

* Night vision: Uses radar to detect heat and provide image of deer, other objects in dark.

More emerging auto technology

In development, available 2008-09

These combine warning systems with ability to alter car's direction or speed:

* Stop-and-go adaptive cruise control: Varies vehicle speed in city traffic.

* Follow function: Allows vehicle to automatically follow vehicle ahead.

* Lane keep: Steers vehicle to stay within lane markings.

* Driver monitoring: Detects when driver is distracted and attempts to eliminate source of distraction, such as blocking cell-phone signal.

* Traffic-sign assistant: Projects image of speed-limit and other traffic signs in front of driver.

* Sensitive guidance: Gives directions to destination if driver appears to be in wrong lane or unaware of approaching highway exit.

* Overtaking assist: Alerts driver to safest place to pass.

Future technologies, availability uncertain

These require less intervention by driver:

* Highway assistant: Allows vehicle to drive itself on a highway.

* Collision mitigation: Takes action to avoid impending crash.

* Electronic bumper: Deploys various devices to prevent impending front-end collision with pedestrian or other object.

* Lane-change assistant: Steers vehicle into adjacent lane while detecting movements of other vehicles.

* Electronic mirror: Uses cameras to let driver monitor other vehicles in windshield display.

Source: Siemens VDO Automotive
But before that can happen, researchers need to figure out how to go from the systems hitting the market now — lane departure warnings, blind-spot detection, parking aids and cruise control that changes the vehicle’s speed in response to the car ahead — to a vehicle that can actually sense its environment.

“Ultimately you have to be able to see what you normally do when you drive a car, which is to look all around you and recognize the presence of other vehicles,” said Gary Strumolo, Ford Motor Co.’s manager of vehicle design, research and advanced engineering. “That’s a very challenging task.”

Far more complex, Strumolo said, than the autopilot systems on airplanes. A self-driving car must be able to not only follow lanes on a road, but also react to other traffic and see obstacles such as potholes and pedestrians.

“Driving a plane is less complicated than driving a car on the highway when there are many other vehicles close by,” he said.

“Think about sometimes when you see a car up ahead and you just sense that this person is going to be pulling over into your lane,” Strumolo said. “Your brain has been honed and you recognize certain cues. Think about how hard that is to program that into a mechanical system.”

The idea of self-driving cars is almost as old as the automobile itself. At the New York World’s Fair in 1939, GM exhibited cars that automatically followed magnetic strips laid in roadways.

Until recently most experts thought magnetic strips were the key to cars that could drive themselves. But the cost of installing such devices would be enormous, requiring every mile of pavement to be torn up and rebuilt.

Now, researchers are confident the future rests in on-vehicle cameras and sensors, which are becoming less expensive but more complex, in concert with minor changes to infrastructure such as traffic signals that beam wireless signals to vehicles.

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Originally posted by Smaart Aas Saabr@Jul 18 2004, 11:08 AM
Does this kind of technology scare other people as much as it does myself?
Nope, computers don't talk on cell phones and yell at other drivers when they controll your car.
 

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Hey I guess it's the future. I honestly don't know if cars will be able to drive themselves anytime in the future without anything to guide them on the road. Why can't they put magnetic strips in the lane markings?

My biggest problem right now with this technology is the possibility that I won't be able to drive my car eventually because it drives itself. That would take the whole point of haveing a nice car away.
 

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ok guys u remember when Buick did this bout 5 or 6 yrs ago with a test mule of the Park Ave?? well i know it sounds weird but unfortunately were getting older and i guess GM wants to make the older crowd a lil more safer on the roads and in these days i think they should make em safer..1 THEY DRIVE WAY TOO SLOW..2. CUT PEOPLE OFF..3 HALF THE TIME DONT KNOW WHERE THEYRE GOIN AND 4. THEY GOT THEIR HEADS UP THE A$$ES MOST OF THE TIME..so i think its a good idea to investigate it now and see what they can come up with and if i was in the GM brand upper mgmt id have em as options for the younger crowd say 40 to 65 and standard on vehicles for 66 and over although most people over 70 shouldnt being driving at all but at least we wouldnt pay so much for insurance if they do happen to hit us..but all in all i think its a good idea to have em as options such as the car drives itself for those old timers lol 66 and above and so we dont get stuck behind em on roads or highways they could read the cars mph hopefully and follow the car in front of it safely..
 

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I think it may be a pretty good thing for some people, and maybe increase safety...

but no way in hell am I going to give up my steering wheel and right foot...


The idea was pioneered by GM on the 1956 Firebird II turbine-powered show car.

Magnetic road sensing doesn't work properly, a magnetic field that's "just right" could send your car off into the ditch at best...

likewise when fresh lines are made, and somebody tries to pass, you get a big yellow tire mark going off into the other lane. What if the car thinks that this marking is the real lane marking and sends the car off into opposing traffic?

These are optical sensors, right? What happens if some mud gets on them?

What happens to rural dirt roads and driving in parking lots, and off the road? (sure I may not have an SUV, but I do lots of that kind of stuff)

I don't like these mandatory ideas of "old people can't drive", my 75 year old grandpa drives much better than many people. Maybe making a driver's exam again or something, but not mandatory barring.

It would take a lot of engineering, and a lot of cash, all to completly eliminate the fun of driving. Yay!

The only thing I like is maybe the speeds could be raised with this, and thus give me less of a hard time trying to get thru traffic...



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If and when all this gets implicated, they still must have a feature where you don't have to "auto drive" the vehicle. They still must have the setting on there where you can simply do everything manually. Which is why I think this would be good for us.

For us lazy folk, in stop & go traffic, it would be VERY less stressful to just put the car on auto-pilot and take a nap or something on your way home from work.

And for us "out in the open" folk, it would be nice to not have to use the auto-pilot feature, and rip and tear through the streets like we usually do. :D
 

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Right now the only place where this could possibly work is on a very well-regulated interstate. Definately a good commuter technology. My question is what would happen if someone came up behind you in a non-automated car and got right on your bumper? Maybe there could be an automated-only lane? Then just increase the speed in that lane by about 5 or 10 mph until it starts to catch on all over.
 

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It's definitely coming sometime. It will be a boon for older drivers and handicapped people. Also computers don't drive drunk, tired, drugged or distracted.
However there are lots of details and obstacles to overcome, including the fact people like driving, sometimes.
Let's face it, on long commutes most people don't want to drive anyway. That's why they read, eat, or put on their makeup while they are driving. Smart cars will give us chauffers so we can surf the net, watch a movie, get some work done, or get a few more zzz's in.
I think that the first place that will happen will be on the freeways in special lanes, like a HOV lane. Computers will be able to drive faster and pack more cars in a lane while doing it safely.
Still it will take some pretty impressive leaps in technology before you tell your car "Home Jeeves."
:frankie:
 

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That's an interesting point that could bring into question the validity of current laws once technologies like these are implemented. If someone were drunk but their car could safely take them home on autopilot, would that still constitute a DUI offense if they happened to be pulled over?

Ha ha! 4-cylinder promotion!
 

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Non-invasive driving aids are fine. But you will not take control of my car away from me unless I push a button saying it is ok (ie. current cruise-control systems). The day that happens is the day I reverse-engineer the entire electronics system to remove the offending crap.

If this stuff is all kept optional, that's fine for awhile. But the lawmakers will decide, "oh, there are no crashes when the computer was driving, but there were x crashes when the humans were driving, so we should make this all mandatory."

That said, there are times when I wish I could just press a button and let the car keep me going 85mph down I-95 without having to do any work. But those times are few and far between. I really don't mind holding the steering wheel, except on really long trips (200 miles or more). Cruise control is nice, but so often you'll find that other drivers don't use theirs or have it set to a different speed (ie. 90 or 60mph), thus requiring you to change lanes or slow down/speed up just to avoid a collision. Adaptive cruise control is a nice solution to that part of the problem, but it's still too expensive right now.
 

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... Computers are preaty damn finiky... one wrong staick charge, or a little too much moisture and you fry the system. (God help them if the contract microsoft and use some version of windows to controll every thing.) And whats to stop some one from actually reverse engineering the thing to send false signals just to F*** with people? I mean, it can be done, some one will do it. Thats the way people are. I fully support anual driver retests. Every other year or somthing.
 

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News articles like this make me laugh. They report on a few new items that have been done and then jump to the end and say "it's almost here!". It's like saying that a one year old has taken his first step and will soon be the fastest person in the world!

It will not be "someday soon" when I will be able to hop in a car and tell it where to take me. It might be by the time I retire in 40 years, but it won't be SOON.

While some of the initial technological hurdles are close to being production ready, there are hundreds of other hurdles that need to be solved. One only needs to look at DARPA's Grand Challenge for proof of this. This also doesn't taken into account the need to have mature hardware. The Majority of automotive technology (ie: hydraulic brakes) is pretty well proven to be fail safe. However, look at the new eletronic systems from MB, BMW, etc. They are having glitches, even several years into production. Could you image these problems 5-10 years into a 'automated highway"? The thought of a automated highway running Microsoft products is enough to avoid driving.

Which leads to America's biggest problem : Liability -- who is responsible? How many lawsuits will these technologies create? Will automakers take the risk without government intervention to prevent them from being sued out of business?

Mr Lutz. It won't be soon. You'll be lucky to see it in your lifetime.

-Z
 

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"Does this kind of technology scare other people as much as it does myself?"

It does not scare me. If you saw the large number of absolute and total maniacs on the roads around here (Washington, DC area) you would welcome such technology.
 

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Intersting how the article mentions that Night Vision will be available around 2007. Hasn't the DTS had it for 3 or 4 years now?

If Toyota was the first to have it, I'm sure the writer would not have made that mistake. :rolleyes:
 

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my computer crashes at least once a week. result? i curse and swear and bang the keyboard, then hit reset and go get a coffee while it reboots. my car computer crashes? then i crash too. not sure how this will ever be 100% reliable. what happens if a tree falls across the road? or i get a flat tire? or a bridge washes out? what happens when my car takes an exit onto a non-automated road and i'm fast asleep? i don't like the idea of giving up my driving privileges, nor do i see it being safe, at least not for a very long time.
 

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Originally posted by paul8488@Jul 19 2004, 06:12 PM
my computer crashes at least once a week. result? i curse and swear and bang the keyboard, then hit reset and go get a coffee while it reboots. my car computer crashes? then i crash too. not sure how this will ever be 100% reliable. what happens if a tree falls across the road? or i get a flat tire? or a bridge washes out? what happens when my car takes an exit onto a non-automated road and i'm fast asleep? i don't like the idea of giving up my driving privileges, nor do i see it being safe, at least not for a very long time.
You are using the wrong operating system my friend :D

My Linux desktop at work hasn't crashed for many months. My OSX (Apple) at home rarely has problems. (In fact, my web/media server at home hasn't crashed in two years and it takes a lot of abuse)

One the most stable platforms used for industrial use is QNX. It's the backbone in alot of commerical/industrial products. Why any company decides to use a Microsoft product to run in a car is beyond me...

-Z
 
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