Monday, October 17, 2005

Driverless Cars

The Defense Department has been holding competitions for driverless cars. This year, for the first time, five vehicles completed the course without any human intervention.

The one thing that really boggles my mind about this is that the vehicles actually used sensors directly on the road and surroundings to effect their navigation and avoid obstacles. Before I read the article, I assumed that some guidance system would be used. In a former life, I briefly operated an order pick truck in a warehouse. It was totally under human control outside of the narrow aisles, but once inside, it locked onto a signal from a wire embedded in the concrete to make it steer straight. The driver was still responsible for getting it to the right bin in the aisle, but only had to be concerned with up-and-down, forward-and-backward motion. I'm wondering if we may someday put similar signal-carriers in our highways and major roads, so that cars will read them and be able to navigate them safely.

That would be wonderful here in Maine, especially in the winter. Imagine if a car had the following information: where the road was going, what the road conditions were, and also where all the other vehicles were and how fast they were going. Other sensors could work to detect animals or other obstacles on the road. There'd have to be a special one for kitty-kats, because they like to lurk in the ditches and dart out in front of cars.



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