As a sci-fi buff when I was a kid, I watched Bruce Willis in the movie The Fifth Element as he navigated his flying yellow cab in 23rd century New York City. I was not only fascinated, but the idea of flying a car fueled my imagination of being able to do that in my lifetime.
Well, some 20-years since the movie’s release, that fantasy doesn’t seem so far-fetched in the world which I work in now – as I deal with the latest technology used to design and test advanced automotive electronic technologies including Connected Car, advanced driver assist system, and self-navigating vehicles of the future.
Already, companies like AeroMobil are toying with flying cars, which can take off in as short as an 800 ft-meter runway; the car reportedly can hit a top speed of 160 kmph and soar the skies at about 320 kmph.
While I wait for the first car pilots to pave the way before I consider putting a down payment for my flying car, I am really excited about the possibilities that autonomous driving and, eventually, self-driving cars have to offer in the pretty foreseeable future.
Studies have already indicated that autonomous driving cars can prevent 9 out of every 10 road accidents we are encountering. As the most recent and future technologies like automotive wireless connectivity including 802.11p DSRC, LTE-V at 3GPP Release 14, and soon to come 5G communications, radar sensing, LIDAR, camera, in-vehicle Ethernet, and navigation continue to improve safety and bridge the potential gaps caused by human errors, the automotive world is likely to see greater adoption of self-driving cars. Artificial Intelligence (AI) with deep learning algorithms play more and more roles to improve the autonomous driving system. Currently, AI is “learning” how to improve its driving skills in the same way humans learn how to drive. AI is capable of making a decision whether to just ignore an empty paper box on the road or push a hard break to avoid a crash with a big refrigerator on the highway. Some people still say they don’t want to rely on a computer system or machine to drive their car, but commuters around the world hardly realize many of their rail rides every day are in self-driving trains. Even big jet airliners are controlled by auto-pilot systems, not by human pilots for most of their routes.
That same human-free transportation mode has already made its way into many preliminary programs with self-driving vehicles in specific zones reserved for self-driving vehicles – there is not so much a concern that these self-driving cars cannot deliver their safety promises, but more so, for designers to zoom in on a myriad of potential risks caused by aggressive human drivers.
I know many of us are not quite ready to get to the stage of sipping morning coffee or enjoying happy hour beer and watching a movie while our cars drive us to work or back home, or sending kids off to school in our self-driving vehicle and fetching them back from their soccer practices without parents’ supervision. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could enjoy your time while your self-driving car takes your kid to soccer practice rather than just sitting in the car at a parking lot of a soccer field?
Just musing over the endless possibilities, that sci-fi dreamer in me would like to design a light-weight driverless pizza delivery pod on wheels – making piping hot pizzas on its way to the customers as it self-navigates, and deftly avoids a tipsy driver, or slows down way ahead of a neighborhood with kids on skateboards. Even in the event that an excited dog might cross the car’s path at the very last minute, my self-sacrificing pod is designed to fall apart, with its super light-weight fiberglass materials causing no harm to any living creature. In fact, the furry friend might even enjoy the bolognaise sauce on the pizza.
These are exciting times, and I am glad I am in the thick of it, working alongside some of today’s best engineers dedicated to creating a safer autonomous and self-driving automotive ecosystem with technologies for environment-friendly electric vehicles, superb powertrain, body and security features, advanced driver assistance systems, and even nanoscale automotive research.
My next posting will include more details of the enabling technologies for autonomous driving. Here is a teaser of my next posting: Why does radar technology require a wider bandwidth for autonomous driving development? As you can see from the figure below, a 1 GHz bandwidth radar signal can’t clearly separate two objects on the road. However, a 4 GHz wide bandwidth radar signal shows two separated objects. It is definitely clear that engineers who develop a safer system should use wider bandwidth radar systems.
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