A number of products on the market are misnamed. Two immediately come to mind.
DaimlerChrysler’s Smart Car, although stylish ( the other definition of smart) and fuel efficient, isn’t much more intelligent then other cars.
Then there’s Apple’s iPod Nano, where the label isn’t indicative of its size.
If you really want to know how intelligent cars could become in the future, pay attention to the Grand Challenge. It’s a desert car race, or more appropriately an obstacle course , designed to test unmanned, self-navigating or autonomous vehicle technology
The sponsor of the Grand Challenge is the research arm of the Pentagon, known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This year they will double the prize for the finisher to 2 million dollars, after none of the entrants finished last year’s inaugural race that had 15 finalists.
If no one crosses the finish line of this grueling 280-kilometer course in the U.S. desert, the prize will again double to 4 million USD next year.
From the nearly 200 participants from 37 US states and four other countries that applied, including three teams from Canada, we expect that after qualification runs, 20 robo-cars will be selected to race in the final on Oct 8,2005.
The Pentagon’s stake in this is obvious. The U.S. military hopes robots, such as an un-manned all-terrain vehicles, will begin replacing soldiers in dangerous situations in the near future.
The DARPA Grand Challenge race is "part of the Pentagon's effort to cut the risk of casualties by fulfilling a congressional mandate to have a third of all military ground vehicles unmanned by 2015."
"The military currently has a small fleet of autonomous ground vehicles stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan but the machines are remotely controlled by a soldier who usually rides in the same convoy. The Pentagon wants to eliminate the human factor and use self-thinking robotic vehicles to transfer supplies in war zones."
Are we likely to see a transfer of this knowledge into the civilian sector? You bet. We are already seeing spin-offs.
One team who, even though they didn’t finish last year’s race, has been approached by a railroad equipment company and asked to modify its vehicle for use on rails. The technology appears to adapt well for the railroad, to monitor potential flaws in the rails or find obstacles ahead of an oncoming train.
Cars companies are already introducing incremental improvements in smart features,(although largely in luxury models) such as: collision avoidance, GPS navigation, roadway monitoring and wireless communications. In the works are Lane Departure Warning Systems, and other neat smart capabilities.
Technology Review Magazine predicts that the average price of a complete intelligent car system is expected to drop in half from $2000 to about $1000.
While all the technology components are available to produce mass market intelligent cars, as we've seen in trial runs, we are still a number of years away from the vision of a driverless vehicle on our streets.
As William Halal from the University of Washington plainly notes in his TechCast.org site, when it comes to intelligent cars, it’s a Chicken and Egg problem - ”An intelligent highway isn’t useful without intelligent cars to use it and vice versa”
What will be a signal or milestone that we are heading toward a society with intelligent transportation? My bet?.... look for unmanned taxi cabs, likely to be introduced first of all in Japan.
ETA: Intelligent Cars (in mainstream use)
Predictions range across the board from 2009 to 2020 depending on which expert you listen to.
ETA: Intelligent Highways (driverless cars and convoys of unmanned trucks in mainstream use)
Predictions are also quite uncertain and variable. Outlooks range from 2015 to 2040
Impacts: What do you thing the societal impacts might be when intelligent cars drive themselves on intelligent highways? Pros? Cons? Consequences?
Long haul truck drivers? Well I think your jobs are safe for another 10-20 years, then I'd start to worry.
More on this developing field in the future.
Expert, Consultant and Guest Speaker on the emerging Smart Technologies and author of an upcoming book on the Smart Economy
".....Strategy without action is a day-dream; action without strategy is a nightmare"
- old Japanese proverb
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