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Cars On Auto-Pilot

If you found my earlier post Catch Up On Your Sleep While Driving interesting, then this one is for you.

Why Autopilot?
Let’s say you are on your way to some place that is a good 40 miles away, and that’s mostly on a freeway. If you were the passenger, you could read a book, catch up on your phone calls or even take a nap. But if you were the driver, and the GPS in your car and the car’s auto-pilot feature could take you safely to your destination, you can do the same.

Typical Scenario
Setup destination on the GPS. Enter the freeway. Merge safely. Turn on auto-pilot. Let the car run on its own as long as it can. Take back control when you enter a region where you have to drive manually.

New Technology Needed
The cars have to be proximity aware, i.e, they need to know what is around them. They must also be able to stop when getting close to something.

The cars have to be capable of wireless communicating with each other among cars and the freeway traffic control system. They need to be able to follow a protocol where they can send and receive messages consisting of requests, acknowledgments, queries and announcements.

The driver interface should include GPS operation, enable or disable auto-pilot and take control back when necessary.

Cars need a way to exit and/or stop at specified areas, e.g. on the right shoulder, when they cannot run on auto-pilot anymore.

Safety and Reliability
One of the biggest challenges is how to make all this safe and reliable. The sensors, controllers and all the software that goes into the cars and the traffic control system need to be rock solid, and also highly compatible.

What if there are rogue cars which don’t follow any of the standards? How do we enforce safety standards?

These are some of the challenges that are being addressed as many auto companies are feverishly working to make this a reality. GM and Honda are among the companies that are expected to some of these amazing cars in the near future.

Conclusion
While this still sounds like science fiction, a lot of R&D has gone into this in the automotive industry. In the next couple of years, we are likely to see the early versions of these cars.

[Read more in the post How Would You Put Your Car On Auto-Pilot?]

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