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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 00:18 
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Robotic co-pilot makes dangerous drivers safer
A utility vehicle equipped with a laser range finder drives through a field, avoiding obstacles without human intervention.

The day when we leave the driving to robots may yet be in the distant future, but we could soon have robotic co-pilots to keep us safe on the road.

The technology works similar to an airplane’s auto-pilot, only in reverse. Instead of a human pilot taking the controls when a plane encounters danger, the intelligent co-pilot kicks in when a driver’s about to crash.

For example, a driver could crank the wheel to the right to avoid a pothole, but cranked so far that he's about to run off the road. The system will catch the unsafe trajectory and adjust the wheels accordingly.

"We make sure we honor the driver’s intentions as far as possible, but with the obvious caveat that we won’t allow a driver steering input that will cause a collision," Sterling Anderson, a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is developing the system, told me today.

That honor system could help bridge the gap to the day when we trust autonomous technology enough to spend our commute time doing anything but actually driving.

In fact, Anderson said, the co-pilot technology he’s working on is "totally capable of autonomous driving."

"Autonomous driving is a much simpler problem than semi-autonomous for the simple reason that you don’t have to worry about a human, you don’t have to worry about obeying their intentions," he said.

The system uses cameras and a laser range finder to determine the car’s current state — such as its velocity and direction — and predict where it's going.

An algorithm uses all the information from the current and predicted state to make a danger assessment and "determine how much to intervene and when to intervene," Anderson explained.

He and his colleagues have run more than 1,200 trials of the system driving through a field lined with barrels and experienced only a few collisions that were blamed on hardware issues.

"We think with better hardware, the system should be fail-proof," Anderson said, adding the "legal disclaimer" that the system is not road-ready.

Using such a system, he added, could give drivers overconfidence in their skills — making them think they are better drivers than they really are.

To prevent that from happening, the team is working on feedback technology such as a torque in the wheel to "give them some indication of what you were just doing was actually not safe," he explained.

If we take those lessons in stride, how much longer until we just let the robots do the driving?

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.
That sounds most interesting. Personally I don't prefer to use this type of technology, but I can see that for many it might help, as long as people know when it is operating and by how much, so they know and can learn where they were going wrong. It might alter insurance premiums and so on and it is still some way away from that but interesting.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 07:42 
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The ESP systems fitted to a lot of modern cars move some way towards this already, intervening when the car is outside its normal operating envelope.

I have a new car which has radar and cameras monitoring the road ahead. If you approach a stationary vehicle in front and show no signs of stopping it does it for you braking just hard enough to stop. It will also keep you a fixed distance from the car in front on the motorway.

Will these make "dangerous drivers safe? I don't think so. They might prevent distraction SMIDSY type incidents.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 14:38 
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My POV -great, and all the new drivers will come to accept this will work. Interesting comparison ---went back to college about 20 years ago ,and as a result I was roughly the same age as most lecturers. One told me that in a maths class he removed all calculators from a teenage class and gave them some problems to work out. His idea - to get them to be able to work out a problem( approximately) to find out if they'd got the correct answer out of the calculator . Same as when we read about some person getting a large bill,it is always the computer to blame .

So what happens when all drivers are dumbed down by reliance on all this new technology, and it FAILS . Or has a glitch and slams on brakes at 70 on busy motorway ?

Any ( possibly only old school in cars with only one circuit) ever had brakes fail ? And those that have had it , even in a new car do you test them early out of habit ?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 10:04 
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Worst brakes on anything I've ever driven were on my ex-boss' 1936 Alvis that I borrowed for my sister's wedding. It was a surprisingly quick car (I chickened-out at an indicated 80 but it felt like there was a bit more there)! It had cable actuated drums on all 4 wheels. There was a huge aluminium handwheel on the floor by the driver's seat which the driver could use to take up the tension on the cables when the pedal hit the floor (which was about twice in 50 miles)! "2-second rule", PAH! 15 second more like! Even when they did work, it wouldn't stop in a straight line.

My first car had single circuit hydraulic brakes, with the master cylinder (no servo!) under the floor. It used to get pelted with water and road muck from the front wheel and master cylinder failure was a regular occurrence. It was never total. You used to notice the pedal slowly sinking at first. Then you'd have to pump it to get a decent stop. Sometime after that, or when the cost of replenishing the brake fluid got excessive. or when the parents complained about the brake fluid on the drive (or at next MOT - whichever came first) it would be replaced and all would be well for another year or so.

Interestingly, I crashed both cars about as often as I crash my brand new company car with all the whistles and bells. (i.e. never). As long as you drive within the car's limits it's not a problem. There is (and always was, however) an element of luck involved.

Technology failing is nothing new. If anything, it has become MUCH less common than it was. I'm sure it will continue to do so with the new measures too. All the worrying about complex electronic control systems today is just the same as when cable and rod actuated brakes started to be replaced by hydraulics.


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