Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Innovatory vehicle system
Innovatory vehicle system
Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments
Intelligent vehicle-control systems
Countries throughout the world are developing systems that are capable of controlling motor vehicles. Intelligent devices are being produced that can be fitted to such vehicles so that their progress and the actions of their drivers can be restricted. Reports from the UK, Sweden and Holland are the first to publicise these innovative systems that could make our highways safer. The details of the use of such systems to control the speed of a vehicle have been described by UK researchers who are working with Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions to develop the revolutionary systems. Trials have been held in the UK by a team from the University of Leeds and the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA). The trials have so far run for three years and have concentrated on the feasibility of installing what is called an "intelligent speed adaption". This is a system that works using a combination of a satellite navigation system to pinpoint the location of each vehicle and an in-car computer loaded with a digital road map encoded with every street or highway in Britain, together with a device that can limit the fuel supply if the speed restrictions are breached.
It is reported that the UK government has been given the latest progress information which indicates that these new technological advances will make a variety of vehicle control, identification, and location measures both feasible and cost-effective.
In the UK, safety groups say that fitting speed control devices to vehicles as standard features could save two-thirds of the 3,500 road deaths that occur on Britain's highways each year. They also estimate that the annual 320,000 road accident injuries would be reduced by as much as one-third.
Current discussion in the UK concerns what is described as the compulsory electronic speed limiter. This is regarded as ultimately mandatory, and would put a speed limiter in each vehicle.
Such a system would work by: pinpointing the exact position of a vehicle by using satellite navigation; using a precise digital road map which has detailed speed limits information; checking continually the vehicle's position against the stored speed limit restrictions; and if the speed limit is exceeded the system's electronics reduces the fuel supply to the engine to ensure it stays within the limit.
Some of the main comments about the implementation of such devices leave the debate unresolved. They are: The "limiter" would initially be costly but this would reduce in the future as it comes into greater use. Motor manufacturers are expected to resist the installation of such systems since they rely largely on the image of the "fast car" to sell their products. The civil liberty issue becomes important for motorists since they will lose control of their own vehicles. The system will be seen as a "life saver" and legislation will have to be introduced. Fuel savings as well as accident prevention will become increasingly recognised. If some 60 percent of vehicles were fitted with the device traffic speed would inevitably slow down - this is regarded as a positive benefit. The ability to control the speed of traffic has great implications for traffic management - reducing the need for traffic calming schemes. Speed cameras and prosecutions for speeding offences could be virtually eliminated.
Case for introducing the system
These are but some of the contributions made to this debate and there is no doubt that countries worldwide will be concerned at the issues that have now arrived because of the advances in technology. One telling statement by safety campaigners is that now we have the
means of controlling the motor vehicle we should do so. They give examples of the advantages to safety on the roads and of being able to slow down traffic around schools or other places where children are at risk. The ability to reduce traffic speeds in the "rush-hour", after accidents or in bad weather when driving conditions are dangerous is also possible.
The developers of the proposed UK "limiter" have defended their system and see it or similar ones installed as a standard throughout the EC. The leader of the Leeds University team, Dr Oliver Carsten, is quoted as saying:
The roads are risky enough as they are and the idea that people should have the freedom to flout the law is an odd concept when it is a legal requirement that you comply with the speed limit. People thought we were crazy for suggesting this, but when you drive a car you hardly notice the speed limiter unless you are deliberately trying to push things too fast, and it works extremely well. It is the most effective safety system anyone could think of, far more effective than road humps, and much more effective than even we first thought of. It is now up to the politicians to make decisions about implementation.
Supporters of the case to install such new technological devices are well aware of the opposition. Important civil liberty issues have been raised, There may well be public antipathy and governments worldwide will be faced with a dilemma. Cyberneticians and systemists will be amongst the first to recognise that technological advances provide society with great challenges, This is but another system which may appear unpopular for all sorts of reasons at the present moment but as conditions change on our highways and more and more vehicles use them the dangers will become more apparent and the traffic congestion more visible. It may well be that at this point the new system will become more desirable and acceptable to society.