Charlie Stross ponders the future of cars

Paul Raven @ 10-11-2010

If you’re bored of my bootstrap amateur futurism (I suppose one can have too much of a good thing, AMIRITES?), pop over to Charlie Stross’ blog and watch a professional at work as he considers the future of personal transport:

While the basic automobile is a mature technology, autonomous vehicles — specifically, self-driving cars — are not. However, they’re clearly coming along by leaps and bounds. And unlike human drivers, computers don’t generally suffer from lapses of attention, have heart attacks at the wheel, drive home from the pub after a couple of pints too many, or plough into cyclists while texting their girlfriends.

Shortly after (not if, but when) we see autopilots become standard equipment in cars, we can expect to see insurance premiums start to rise sharply for people who insist on driving themselves around on the public highways — especially for third-party insurance.

(Remember, it’s not about you: it’s about the guy in the pick-up behind you who’s had six pints of beer, or the gal in the SUV bearing down on the pedestrian crossing who’s paying more attention to the friend she’s chatting to than the kids crossing the road. You could be that guy or that gal; or you could be scrupulously attentive the whole time. Your insurance company’s computer can’t tell until you have an accident … that’s the problem with Baye’s Theorem.)

Longer term (I suspect a generation after that point) we’ll begin to see pressure to ban humans from driving on the public roads. By this point, the cost of electronics required to upgrade a vehicle to self-driving capability will have fallen so much that it’s ubiquitous, even in the developing world.

The mark of good futurism, for me at least, is when you read or hear it and think “well, yeah, of course; obvious, isn’t it?” The cynical rejoinder to that would be to say that repeating the obvious is easy work… to which I’d respond that either a) I’m an idiot or b) it’s not as easy as the experts make it look. (I’m rooting for option B there, obviously.)

That said, the gaping hole in Charlie’s piece is the absence of public transport as an influential factor; maybe I’m just being too idealist (or naive), but I find it hard to envisage a future a century hence where private ownership of long-distance vehicles is anywhere near as ubiquitous as it is now. Shared pools thereof, perhaps… but I figure that a radical rethink of transport infrastructure – not to mention the necessity of long-distance personal travel – is pretty inevitable, whether caused by rational politics (not looking likely) or the rocks and hard places of post-Peak Oil economics (looking pretty inevitable).

After all, the Greatest Nation in the World™ can’t afford to maintain its roads and highways at the moment; cars will be little use with nothing to drive ’em on. Unless the highways seceded, of course…


Scaled-elextric: slot cars for transport

Tom James @ 11-08-2009

slot-carToday’s dose of technocratic mass-transport conceptual design is brought to you by German designer Christian Förg. His Speedway Transport System is inspired by slot cars of his youth:

Förg’s Speedway Transport System concept uses a network of linear electric motors to propel cars along the highway.

He sees us driving around in futuristic dual-mode electric cars with small motors for city driving. When we’re ready to leave town, a contact-free linear motor would propel the car over long distances with a drifting magnetic field. Förg says linear motors would work under our existing roadways, complementing – not replacing – existing automotive technology.

“This means that you can use the roads with normal cars and also at the same time for the Speedway system,”

If this ever gets taken up it’ll be interesting to see what alternative uses the street finds for this technology.

A slight non-sequitur: Will Hutton writes in the Guardian on the dire state of the UK rail network, and how in order to remain economically competitive, Britain must invest in the kind of high-speed rail they have in Europe.

[via Wired][image from Wired]


Smartdust on the roads, in the cars

Tom James @ 01-07-2009

highway_insomniaThe old chestnut of fully automatic cars trundled a little bit closer with the development of EM2P by the European research group EMMA:

“We sought to hide the underlying complexity of in-car embedded sensors so that developers could quickly design new applications with existing electronics,” explains Antonio Marqués Moreno, coordinator of the EMMA project. “EMMA will foster cost-efficient ambient intelligence systems with optimal performance, high reliability, reduced time-to-market and faster deployment.”

The project hopes that, by hiding the complexity of the underlying infrastructure, its work will open up new prospects in the field of embedded, cooperating wireless objects.

The key of the idea is to make a middleware application between the embedded sensors in cars and designers who want to develop interesting and useful applications.

it could also work between cars – opening the prospect of cooperating cars – and, of course, it can work with traffic infrastructure like lights, warning signs, and other signalling information. All of this via the same middleware platform.

Also a possible route of entry for a hypothetical Internet of Things.

[from ICT results, via Physorg][image from Nrbelex on flickr]


Computers react before humans have a clue

Edward Willett @ 18-09-2008

800px-Japanese_car_accident SF stories involving artificial intelligences often play up the fact that a computer-based intelligence would find human thought processes glacially slow in comparison to its own.

But you don’t have to dip into speculation about the future of computing to see that. The Australian newspaper The Age points out that although “survivors of serious car crashes often say time appears to slow down in the moments around the impact and that they can recall the event in extraordinary detail,” in reality, “the crash is often over before the human brain has registered the incident, and it’s only by later replaying it in their minds that crash victims achieve such vivid recollections.” (Via Instapundit.)

Accompanying the story is this anatomy of a crash which makes their point:

All over in the blink of an eye

This is a reconstruction of a crash involving a stationary Ford Falcon XT sedan being struck in the driver’s door by another vehicle travelling at 50 km/h.

One millisecond equals 1/1000th of a second.

0 milliseconds – An external object touches the driver’s door.

1 ms – The car’s door pressure sensor detects a pressure wave.

2 ms – An acceleration sensor in the C-pillar behind the rear door also detects a crash event.

2.5 ms – A sensor in the car’s centre detects crash vibrations.

5 ms – Car’s crash computer checks for insignificant crash events, such as a shopping trolley impact or incidental contact. It is still working out the severity of the crash. Door intrusion structure begins to absorb energy.

6.5 ms – Door pressure sensor registers peak pressures.

7 ms – Crash computer confirms a serious crash and calculates its actions.

8 ms – Computer sends a “fire” signal to side airbag. Meanwhile, B-pillar begins to crumple inwards and energy begins to transfer into cross-car load path beneath the occupant.

8.5 ms – Side airbag system fires.

15 ms – Roof begins to absorb part of the impact. Airbag bursts through seat foam and begins to fill.

17 ms – Cross-car load path and structure under rear seat reach maximum load.
Airbag covers occupant’s chest and begins to push the shoulder away from impact zone.

20 ms – Door and B-pillar begin to push on front seat. Airbag begins to push occupant’s chest away from the impact.

27 ms – Impact velocity has halved from 50 km/h to 23.5 km/h. A “pusher block” in the seat moves occupant’s pelvis away from impact zone. Airbag starts controlled deflation.

30 ms – The Falcon has absorbed all crash energy. Airbag remains in place. For a brief moment, occupant experiences maximum force equal to 12 times the force of gravity.

45 ms – Occupant and airbag move together with deforming side structure.

50 ms – Crash computer unlocks car’s doors. Passenger safety cell begins to rebound, pushing doors away from occupant.

70 ms – Airbag continues to deflate. Occupant moves back towards middle of car.
Engineers classify crash as “complete”.

150-300 ms – Occupant becomes aware of collision.

So if the Singularity every arrives, does this mean it will all be over before humans even notice it’s begun?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]automobiles, safety, computers, artificial intelligence[/tags]


Dude, where’s my flying car?

Edward Willett @ 24-07-2008

Jetson It’s become a cliche to ask why we don’t have flying cars yet, since they’ve been a dream of science fiction writers and gadgeteers for decades. It’s not easy to build a flying car, that’s why–but Moller International has been working on it for years and has announced that it is in the process of completing its fourth “Jetson”–well, they don’t call it a flying car, they call it a “volantor airframe,” but still–and expects to complete forty of them by 2009. And Moller, as a glance at its website will reveal, has much bigger plans down the road for their flagship design, the M400 Skycar. (Via Gizmodo.)

The two-passenger, saucer-shaped M200G Jetson is designed for operation at up to 10 feet above the ground (so its operators don’t need pilot’s licenses), uses fly-by-wire technology (meaning a computer takes care of all the tricky control stuff and you just have to point it where you want to go) and:

can take-off and land vertically, is the size of a small automobile, operates vibration-free with little noise and is also qualified to travel short distances on the ground as an automobile as well. The prototype M200X has completed over two hundred flights with and without a pilot on board and can be seen flying here. In addition to the M200G, the Company plans to offer the M200E, a kit-built version of its Jetson aircraft with sales beginning in 2010. The M200E will not have the same software enabled altitude constraints as the M200G and the Company expects the M200E to be operable as an Experimental class aircraft.

The eight rotary engines give the Jetson a cruising speed of 75 miles per hour, a maximum speed of 100, a range of 100 miles, and a cargo capacity of up to 250 pounds. The engines operate on unleaded gasoline and can also be configured to run on other fuels.

If you want one, you have to identify yourself as a


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