Imagine this scenario: you climb into your car to begin your morning commute to the office. You fasten your seat belt, start your vehicle, and begin driving. Before long, you've left your neighborhood behind and have merged onto the city streets. You take out your newspaper and begin reading, confident that your car will reach your destination without requiring any manual input from you.
What I've just described may seem laughably close to science fiction. In reality, the automotive technology needed to accomplish most of the above is already in development. Automakers are integrating artificial intelligence within their respective fleets that allow their vehicles to avoid traffic collisions, including those that involve pedestrians.
Below, we'll explore a few of these "futuristic" technologies. I'll describe how automobiles are communicating with other vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure in order to avoid accidents and reduce road congestion. You may be surprised by how close we are to enjoying a car-controlled driving experience.
Communicating And Networking
The main reason motorists get involved in accidents, heavy traffic conditions, and similar road problems is due to a lack of timely information. For example, another driver might run through a red light. That often results in a collision because other drivers are unprepared. Road congestion occurs because many motorists take the same streets. If they had access to information that warned them of traffic, many would take alternate routes.
A lot of automobiles are already equipped with devices that communicate with other vehicles. For example, lane change warning systems use sensors to identify the presence of other cars. If you attempt to move into a lane occupied by another, the system will either warn you, apply braking power, or influence steering control.
This type of technology is being used (on an experimental platform) to allow cars to communicate and network with buildings, traffic lights, and other infrastructure. Data is shared among them to help motorists avoid collisions and congestion.
The Automotive Safety Net
Adaptive cruise control systems already apply braking power given a driver's proximity to objects in his or her path. A few automakers are using that same technology to add an additional level of safety.
Sensors and radar technology are installed within the automobiles. These devices scan the landscape and note the positions of other vehicles. If necessary, the computer will apply the brakes to prevent a collision. If a collision is unavoidable, the computer will adjust the seats to minimize the impact felt by the motorist.
A Little Help Steering
The technology used in lane change warning systems is being expanded to give more steering control to automobiles. For example, if you drift into another lane without engaging your turn indicator, your car's computer can apply the brakes on one side. That will slowly move your vehicle back into your lane. It won't be long before such technology enables your car to make turns and parallel park on its own.
While a fully automated driving experience is still decades away, automakers are designing robust systems that reduce the level of input required from us. In our lifetime, we are likely to witness a significant evolution in automotive intelligence.