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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited
Twenty five years ago if you had asked a car manufacturer how many sensors they used in their cars they would probably have said "none". Unless they were really advanced and had electronic ignition, in which case they may have answered "one". In the intervening years sensors have made a takeover bid, in fact you probably cannot even open your car door without sending a coded radio signal to a radio receiver and the car's master controller.
Sensors are used for a variety of reasons including improved engine performance, better road handling, safety, comfort and luxury additions such as rain dependant automatic windscreen wiper controls. What were once the ridiculously frivolous additions demanded by the seriously rich, now come as an expected part of the basic package.
All of these additions make it much more pleasant for us to spend time in our cars. Which is just as well, because traffic congestion means we now spend a lot longer getting from A to B. Indeed it can frequently take longer to get to work than if you went by horse or, in extreme cases walked.
I consider that the next major advance for automobiles needs to be in traffic management and automated driving systems. And a very interesting approach to traffic management is covered in our paper by Prof Hojjat Adeli (see page 146).
Most traffic jams and accidents are caused by people, and most of these are by people simply driving too close to the car in front. The scenario goes something like this:
Car A applies its brakes slightly and car B, that is following too close behind, sees car A's brake lights come on and instinctively brakes quite hard. Cars C, D E and F progressively brake harder and harder. With luck car G will not actually hit car F, however even without physical contact the end result is that a whole group of cars has come to a complete stop and then takes time to get going again. All of which dramatically reduces the car's average speed and makes the horse look all the more attractive.
If we can remove people from the driving seat then traffic flow can be greatly improved. Add to this automatic re-routing by traffic management software beaming directions to the car's onboard navigation computer, and suddenly everyone gets to work quicker and environmental pollution is greatly reduced due to shorter journey times and more efficient driving styles.
Of course many people will demand the right to burn rubber should the fancy take them, and so the car will need to have a "Manual/ Automatic" driving option to allow for this choice and for times spent driving on the open road beyond the reaches of a traffic management infrastructure.
We already have all the (largely sensor based) technology we need to implement such a system, and so it is just a matter of having the will to do it and to allocate the required financial resources. Here in the UK our public transport system is in a bit of a crisis. Big efforts are being made to entice people to take trains to work and there are moves to restrict car parking in cities so people are forced to leave their cars at home. So far it is not working.