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.
I'm wondering how the Allstates of the world are viewing the increase in automotive computing capability and if they will factor it into their rates at some point. (I mean in terms of REDUCING insurance rates.) I was shocked recently to find out that my six-year old Sentra cost more to insure than a newer car, and the agent told me that one reason is that newer cars have all those airbags. By analogy, I wonder if a car with some demonstrated autonomy via computer control will be similar safer and thus qualify for reduced rates, at least at some point when this all shakes out and becomes more mainstream.
I suppose stranger things have happened and there's no doubt the technology will get there. This is clearly one of those situations where the technology is likely ahead of consumer's comfort zone for entrusting their safety to some computerized, autonomous vehicle system. Even the idea of cars chugging along with people in the backseats doing other stuff is creepy to me, however inevitable.
Could our view of distant galaxies be obstructed by a lawnmower? That unlikely question is at the heart of a growing debate between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and a robot manufacturer that seeks to build self-guided lawnmowers.
Design News readers spoke loudly and clearly after our recent news story about a resurgence in manufacturing -- and manufacturing jobs. Commenters doubted the manufacturers, describing them as H-1B visa promoters, corporate crybabies, and clowns. They argued that US manufacturers aren’t willing to train workers, preferring instead to import cheap labor from abroad.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
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