In the past century, cars have evolved to be perhaps the most dominant and widely-used form of transportation. With the count of passenger cars on the globe at a sky-high 531 million as of 2002, it is evident cars are almost everywhere. In the years to come, it can be assured that cars will continue to evolve into faster, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly vehicles that will change the way we move, work, and live.
On this page we describe several new and emerging automotive technologies: we have included technologies that are already a work in progress as well as ideas for the future. As one of the most prevalent methods of transportation in our lives today, new and improved models of the car are constantly being developed.
The "Smart" Car
Related interactive activity: Features for the complete smart car and automated highway
What's the idea? With a fully automated street system, drivers with "smart" cars could relax while their cars detected magnets placed along specialized highways. The cars would run automatically as the highway computer system calculates the flow of incoming and exiting traffic, resulting in productive, steady, streamlined transportation.
When could it happen? In short, a system like this could be implemented any time now. Aside from cost barriers, the technology of a smart car is readily available. The topic of automated car and highway systems has sprouted up in study groups and think tanks across the country. Computer simulations, small models, and real-life demonstrations have shown these technologies are not as far away as once thought.
How does it work? There have been several proposals on how to best create such a system, and many options are available. A joint effort from the California Department of Transportation and California University , the "Partners for Advanced Transit and Highway" program, is know as PATH. It is just one research group dedicated to making the world of automobile transportation as safe, efficient, and hi-tech as possible. Their comprehensive project included magnetometers, advanced traffic modeling, and computer simulations among other technologies.
In order for Automated Highway Systems, or AHS, to work, the highway must first have magnetic markers drilled in periodically along the road. The vehicles on the road have magnetometers in place which sense the magnetic field and evaluate their position relative to the road. The smart car compensates accordingly, creating a smooth ride along the highway.
A wide variety of methods could be used for the ideal "smart car" to detect its environment. Magnetometers aside, other sensory options include camera sensors that could detect the yellow-boundary stripes on the road. To learn more about smart car equipment and features, take a look at this comprehensive interactive activity. Also, see the "Sign Detection" and "Radar Scanning" sections below.
In an automated highway system, all of the vehicles on the road could be in communication with a main computer. This computer would use traffic modeling to streamline speeds, creating a very even traffic flow. In 1994, the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC) demonstrated a method called "platooning." Using a California freeway, eight vehicles were equipped with special gear. Using magnetic markers to guide themselves, the eight-car platoon was successful in riding safely, smoothly and quickly. Other technologies were displayed at the demonstration, including adaptive cruise control systems, obstacle detection systems, and laser ranging sensors.
Why do people need it? With a constantly increasing population and need for space, traffic rates are booming. Energy sources run low as more and more cars hit the road every year. Along with safety, automated and intelligent vehicle systems would offer smooth traffic flow, more vehicles per highway, and greater fuel efficiency through consistent non-fluctuating automotive speeds.
What's the idea? A set-up of cameras can detect road signs and make sure the driver has spotted them.
When could it happen? Now - thanks to the National Information and Technology Communications lab in Australia, this Driver Assistance System (DAS) has already been created.
How does it work? The DAS is an arrangement of cameras that reads road signs. With one camera on the rear view and two others on the dashboard, the system can monitor for signs. When it detects a familiar shape, such as the octagon of a stop sign, the built- in computer searches for matches in its lists of recognizable signs. The cameras on the dashboard can detect the faces and calculate where the driver is looking. The computer decides whether the driver has seen the sign and alerts the driver if the car has not slowed down.
Why do people need it? Admit it: we all get distracted every once and a while. A system like this could make sure we spot all the important signs on the road.
What's the idea? Although radar systems are traditionally much larger, recent innovations allow for tiny devices that could help reduce collisions.
When could it happen? This small radar system is ready for use, although the cost of making it is hoped to drop.
How does it work? At the California Institute of Technology, researchers developed a silicon chip radar system that is smaller than a fingernail. Such a system could be used to scan for upcoming barriers in the car's way.
Why do people need it? With radar constantly checking for upcoming objects, more accidents could be prevented along with more lives saved.
U.S. Department of Transportation electronic library of intelligent transportation documents: http://www.its.dot.gov/welcome.htm
California University's "Partner's for Advanced Transit and Highway," or PATH: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/
Ashley, S. (1998, May). Smart cars and automated highways. Mechanical Engineering. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from American Society of Mechanical Engineers Web site: http://www.memagazine.org/backissues/may98/features/smarter /smarter.html
Biever, C. (2004, February 27). Tiny radar could make driving safer. NewScientist. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4725
Brown, L. R. (2003). Crops and cars compete for land. In Plan B: Rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from Earth Policy Institute Web site: http://www.earth policy.org/Books/PB/PBch3_ss4.htm
Federal Highway Administration (1997, July/August). Demo ‘97: Proving AHS works. Retrieved January 19, 2005, from U.S. Department of Transportation Web site: http://www.tfhrc.gov/pubrds/july97/demo97.htm
Federal Highway Administration (2000, November). Steps in developing an incident management program. In Traffic Incident Management Handbook (2.1 2.4) [Brochure]. PB Farradyne . Retrieved January 19, 2005, from U.S. Department of Transportation Web site: http://www.itsdocs.fhwa.dot.gov/jpodocs/rept_mis/@9201!.pdf
Graham Rowe, D. (2004, September 30). Clever cars can read road signs. NewScientist. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6454
Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (n.d.). Vehicle platooning and automated highways [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved February 13, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Publications/Media/FactSheet /VPlatooning.pdf
Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (Ed.). (1996). Intellimotion, 5(4). Retrieved January 15, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Intellimotion/intel54.pdf
Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (1997). Automated driving mini demonstration [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved January 20, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Publications/Media/FactSheet/Mini-Demo.pdf
Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (1997). California PATH magnetic guidance system [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved January 20, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Publications/Media/FactSheet /MGuidance.pdf
Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (1997). The Honda PATH control transition demonstration [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved January 20, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Publications/Media/FactSheet /CTransition.pdf
Sharke, P. (2003, March). Smart cars. Mechanical Engineering. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from American Society of Mechanical Engineers Web site: http://www.memagazine.org/backissues/mar03/features/smartcar /smartcar.html
Shladover, S. (Speaker). (n.d.). Automated vehicles with research engineer Stephen Shladover . Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways. Available January 21, 2005, from Berkeley University of California Web site: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/PATH/Publications/Videos/