However, Taub says tomorrow's vehicles won't need to add much computing capability to make it all happen. Given the prevalence of today's complex safety systems, much of the computing power is already in place, he said.
"Each sensor will have its own smarts," he said. "And then all the information from the sensors will be sent to a central processor that will do the integration and fuse it into a single level of situational awareness. But you won't need supercomputers. It's a distributed network, and we think it's doable."
In the beginning, autonomous cars will be "sensor-intensive." They'll employ radar, LIDAR (light detection and ranging), ultrasound, and camera-based sensors. Such subsystems, working with central processors and highly developed software algorithms, will endow the vehicles with the full, 360° situational awareness that vehicle developers seek.
Eventually, some of the sensors will be augmented or even replaced by on-board vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems. Those systems will enable the vehicles to communicate silently with one another, as well as with stop lights, road signs, and virtually everything else that matters. As a result, the vehicles will get the situational awareness they need without the high cost of lasers.
To a small degree, vehicle autonomy may already be happening around us. The now-famous Google automated cars have logged more than 140,000 miles, including drives on such well-known venues as Hollywood Boulevard, Lombard Street in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Coast Highway.
Taub says that much of the technology is already in place, and that production vehicle manufacturers are already using some of it. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technologies are popping up on vehicles. And accident avoidance -- the ability to commandeer the brakes and steering wheel -- is coming very soon. Those features, he said, lay the groundwork for complete autonomy.
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
Or there will have to be a focus on the 100 mile round trip. When I think of designing something new, my first goal is to understand what the specifications are. I wonder what the car companies are focusing on.
That may be the toughest part of the development of the electronic car. What round trip do you try and shoot for? What kind of acceleration do you target? And I think from a generational standpoint I think the younger generation may be a little more likely to give up some things in favor of a green car. Some of us are a little too dreamy about our gas guzzling muscle car that we cruised around town in. And unfortunately, it's that group of people that might actually be able to afford the EVs.
Good observation, Jmiller. Look like our current culture isn't quite ready for widespread use of EVs. It certainly doesn't seem EVs are designed for the long commute that is so prevalent in our present lifestyle. I can't imagine the long commutes will end soon. So EVs may have to develop quite a bit before they can truly replace an internal combustion car.
Until we can solve the charging station issue or have replacement batteries at every local gas station the electonic vehicles are going to be kept back. We have become such a mobile society. Often driving 40 or 50 miles to work in some rural areas. 40 years ago it wasn't that way. You worked in the town you lived and wouldn't have to worry about a long drive to work. In that environment a rechargeable vehicle would have been possible because few drove that far.
I wonder if we as a society are willing to give up some of our freedom to promote the electrical vehicles.
And how many times have we been driving slow on the freeway for no apparent reason. I would assume electronically driven vehicles would result in less gawking out the window when there's some type of an issue. I've often dreamt of the ability for everyone to hear the word "GO!" shouted on the radio at the same time so we could all start moving at 55 instead of 15.
It reminds me of some of the new technology out there for dark warehouses, where the forrkifts all drive themselves and bring the components to the assembly line automatically. And think about the accidents that could be prevented by one car talking to another as they weave in and out to get to their destination. Lots of potential. But lots of work to get there.
Good points, TJ. Lately, I've started to wonder about how quickly we will build out the charging stations. I'm not so sure we will soon have EVs and hybrids at scale to really begin to build out a decent infrastructure. If batteries keep blowing up and prices stay high, EV revolution may slow to a creep.
I don't know about costing less, Rob. I would suspect much, much more. Traffic signals are a municipal responsibility, not federal. Each will have its own contractor, and probably multiple network protocols as industrial automation already sees. Cars will have to be able to communicate via these multiple protocols.
Implementing this at the same time as trying to jumpstart electrical charging stations is going to be a challenge. Modernizing the transportation infrastructure (not even counting the actual roads) is going to approach the trillion dollar level.
If we could create a grid that includes both moving and stationary items, that could save thousands upon thousands of lives. We're getting close to the technology, but deployment may be another factor. It would certainly require mammoth government investment, but probably much less that the interstate system cost.
Good point, TJ. How many times have you seen a light change and wondered why no one seems to be moving? One of the goals of vehicle-to-vehicle communication is to enable vehicles to talk to one another and then move in organized "flights" through traffic lights.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.