The more we as human beings discover things, the more we realise how much we’re only copying Nature. Think about transportation. Today, we either have cars, that are largely modes of transport for individuals, or we have the so called “mass transits”, like trains and Tubes.
What if we could come up with a way to travel in a cluster of vehicles that allows individual vehicles in the cluster the freedom to go where they want by breaking off from the main cluster?
That’s exactly what Charles Rattray’s idea of autonomous vehicles is all about. By combining principles of bio-mimicry, artificial intelligence and information technology, the “autonomo”, as Charles calls his vehicle, is designed for travel in “platoon mode”. He expects that autonomous vehicles will be ready for use in another 20 years, considering that various pieces of the underlying technology are already being researched around the world.
The key is to minimize the distance between individual vehicles so that more vehicles can use the available road network. This is expected to be achieved using microwave sensors; in tests, a distance of 20 cms has apparently been achieved. Sensors also scan the road surface ahead and accordingly, prime the suspension, so that overall ride comfort improves.
All this fundamentally transforms a vehicle from being a mechanical device that has a fair amount of on-board computing power to a powerful computer that runs on wheels and has seating inside. This computing power will help the “autonomos” detect changes in road conditions irrespective of prevailing weather.
However, adopting and adapting to autonomous vehicles will require a mega-shift in our own mind-set and attitude as drivers and passengers. Road-rage too will hopefully decline, as will the underlying traffic snarls caused by inconsiderate road hogs.