July 22, 2008

Electric powered, exclusive robotic car urban transportation zones

Invented by Alvin Wang (nextbigfuture co-author)

This is a plan to enable the safe early deployment of robotic cars, trucks and buses. The robotic car only zones can start off smaller with 10-100 cars covering 10X10 blocks or so and then expanding as the system is proven. Public transportation would be cheaper and better and enable the start of complete shift to completely robotic driven cars which would be safer than current human driven cars and a reorganization of transportation to be cleaner, cheaper and safer without sacrificing time or convenience. 45,000 people per year in the United States die from traffic accidents and 1.2 million people in the world die from traffic accidents. The effective global implementation of a revamped robotic car system would save all those lives and would not need to cost time or convenience. Time can be saved and the system can be more convenient than the current system of human driven cars.

UPDATE: Brad Templeton had written an excellent series of articles on robocars for public transportation.

Computer driven cars are being developed and tested in the Darpa grand challenge but they are expected to take 20-25 years to be ready for deployment to existing roads with other human piloted cars.

Boss, a robotized 2007 Chevy Tahoe, was the fastest of the 2007 Urban challenge competitors by a large margin. Boss averaged about 14 miles an hour over approximately 55 miles, finishing the course about 20 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, Stanford. It followed California driving laws as it navigated the course and that it operated in a safe and stable manner. So in 2-3 years it should be possible to increase the speed of safe operation up to 30-40 mph, which would be facilitated by adjusting the city streets with electronic markers to make the city course easier for the robot cars.

The Carnegie Mellon team is at this site.

Tartan Racing technology enables Boss to:

Follow rules of the road
Detect and track other vehicles at long ranges
Find a spot and park in a parking lot
Obey intersection precedence rules
Follow vehicles at a safe distance
React to dynamic conditions like blocked roads or broken-down vehicles

High-level route planning determines the best path through a road network. Motion planning requires consideration of the static and dynamic obstacles detected by perception, as well as lane and road boundary information, parking lot boundaries, stop lines, speed limits, and similar requirements.

This new plan is to have only other robotic cars as dynamic obstacles which are registered with the high level routing system (with a known routing path) and to place electronic markers and other navigational aids and local traffic routers to assist safe driving at faster speeds.

Electric cars are expected to not be significant in transportation for ten years or more.

City districts and then whole cities can create an environment that would allow for rapid low infrastructure modification deployment of all robotic electric car driving zones.

There are sections of some cities where cars are banned. These are usually closed streets with open air shopping and people walking. Larger zones can have human driven cars banned. In the robotic taxi/public transit zone, on every corner an electronics filled box or post can be placed that would provide assistance to mass produced Darpa Grand challenge type robotic cars. There would be no human drivers for the robotic cars to deal with. There would be controlled intersections and all troublesome unpredictabilities removed within the no human car zone.

Unlike dual mode transportation which would require guiderails to be built, this plan would only require enough computers and sensors to assist the safe operation of the robotic cars. It could be possible for some designated streets to have bicyclists and if the robotic cars and traffic control is up to it there could be shared roads with separate lanes for bicyclists and lanes for robotic cars.

All the robotic cars could be electrically powered because they would only operate within a section of city or eventually a whole city. When no one is in the vehicle the car would go to maintenance and recharging areas as needed.

Because there would be no human piloted cars, city parking within the zone would be freed up either to park the robotic cars or for increased densification of the city.

Robotic cars could have variety as needed. Some could be trucks for moving cargo. Some could have flat beds which could even transport cars across the no car zone.

If required initially some of the cars could not be electric, but ideally they would be electric.

The robotic car network and zone would integrate with rail transit that came to the city/zone. For example, San Francisco would have robotic cars waiting at the BART and Caltrain stops. There would be mostly pickup to doorstep and doorstep to parking lot or public transit transportation with minimal or zero waiting.

Parking for passengers vehicles that arrive at the city/zone would stop at the edge of the robotic vehicle only zone or go to park and rides and arrive via public transportation.

Robotic car waiting and pre-booking

Cities would be free to determine service level, but pre-booking and capacity planning would allow there to be virtually no wait times for robotic cars.

The dynamic car pre-booking and live booking systems could show robitic car availability similar to booking seats on airplanes.

Given the known rush hour flows each car should be able to make several trips each rush hour. Dynamic pricing would allow those who were willing to ride share or have some rides on buses to be charged less.

Cellphones could be used call for a robotic car.

The Current Darpa Robotic vehicle technology is good enough
Robotic vehicles have navigated a closed course urban setting and a closed course offroad setting. The controlled environment of the zone would match the capabilities of existing robotic vehicles.

Robotic vehicles could provide accident free transportation in the zone/city.

They would help operational costs stay lower so that more vehicles could be operated without needing vehicles large enough to justify buses and bus drivers.

If ten trips per person ratios were sufficient then for 1,000,000 people there would be 100,000 vehicles. Most of the vehicles might only need a top speed of 35-40mph and could be produced for $2500-10,000 each for the vehicle. Assuming a $10,000 average ($5000 for the car and $5000 for mass produced control electronics) then the vehicle portion of the system would be $1 billion. Add another $300 million for the on the street guidance assistance markers and systems and the booking and reservation system. The parking would be the re-assignment of existing city resources.

Bay Area transit agencies, including BART and AC Transit received $922 million directly from the state under that Proposition 1B bond measure rounding out a total of nearly $1.3 billion for area transit.

Add 30% each year for maintaining the vehicles and the system.

The best places to introduce the system would be cities with fairly large downtown cores (Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco etc...) and in the entire new cities that China is building as they increase urban population by 1-2% each year.

The system is using technology that is ready now in terms already demonstrated in small or large numbers. Increasing the speed means more research and waiting. Plus one hundred times current speeds of 40 mph is 4000 mph which is hypersonic.

Even using the Darpa systems involves scaling up of production and getting unit costs down.

Safety is addressed because everything in the robotic zone is tailored for simplicity. No non-computer controlled vehicles on roads with robots. There need be no large vehicles either. The option of mixing vehicles of any kind is not needed if safety is compromised in any way.

Everything is modularized and able to be separately upgrade. Vehicle power can be upgraded. Vehicles can be upgraded one at a time. control systems and software can be upgraded. Different zones can be separately upgraded. When better tech is ready then it can be adopted just maintain overall system compatibility.

Driverless zones can cover the whole cities and eventually highways as well. The buildings are not moving and when new ones are added the digital maps are changed. The Darpa challenge vehicles have driven urban courses safely. GPS routing can lay out a course from point A to B anywhere in the city. Then it is just a matter of making sure that the robotic cars can be made aware of each other and ensure that there interactions are simplified so that no unpredictability is created.

You would have master routing and overall automated traffic control.

Computerized car people movers that book in their "flight plan" live. With localized (intersection by intersection) safe and fast resolution of local routing conflicts.

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