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April 07, 2006

other tech: Self driving cars in traffic, the next goal for the Stanford team behind Stanley

The goal at Stanford is to be able, within the next two years, to drive from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles with 100 percent autonomy--without any human intervention whatsoever. Stanford's Thrun predicts that full autonomy--not just convoy lanes on the freeway--is at least 30 years away. But between then and now will come many milestones, such as autonomous military convoys and a whole raft of convenience and safety features that will slowly bestow various degrees of autonomy onto commercial and consumer vehicles.

Schulmeyer sees three distinct stages ahead for autonomous safety systems: First, radar will be proven out on adaptive cruise controls; next will come more-active safety systems, such as emergency brakes that apply maximum braking to minimize damage when an "inevitable collision" is detected; and finally, full collision-avoidance systems will steer around upcoming obstacles to prevent collisions from ever happening.

why don't cars drive themselves already? One reason is that vehicles need to be able to "drive by wire," meaning that all mechanical linkages, from accelerator to transmission to brakes and steering, have to be controlled by computer-activated electric servos. The previous article describes the move to brake by wire starting in 2010.

If you could switch on the self-driving mode, he said, "you could become more productive--you could read or sleep or answer your e-mail, or even watch a movie." And such a car could keep the elderly, who might otherwise have to give up their driver's licenses, independent longer. Plus lives could be saved, 44000 traffic deaths in the USA each year and 1.2 million each year for the world. Most accidents are at intersections.

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