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Personalized Driverless Tramcars

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A great deal of thought is going into the creation of driverless cars. I for one would love to tell my car where to go, then lay back and...

A great deal of thought is going into the creation of driverless cars. I for one would love to tell my car where to go, then lay back and nap. So I’m all for this. However, I do wonder if this quest, as it is currently envisioned, is pragmatic. The system is basically dependent on your car having three things, very sensitive sensors to quickly detect other cars and road conditions, a pinpoint GPS system, and a fast computer. The car has to always know exactly where it is by the GPS system and it will need fast computers and sensors to make driving corrections and to avoid other cars.

Let’s make a reasonable expectation that the sensors to detect surrounding cars and the road, and our GPS systems continue to improve dramatically. Let’s even assume that the speed and power of computers grow by leaps and bounds, as they surely will. I have no doubt that such a system can drive a car in normal controlled situations. Without other cars whizzing by at different speeds, without a road that does not change direction in sudden ways, a powerful computer with a strong GPS system and sensitive sensors will do very well. But what happens when the signal from the GPS is disrupted for whatever reason, for a few seconds or minutes. Or the car gets into a pack of traffic with crazy people doing crazy things to get out of it? Or the road sudden curves in an unpredictable way? We would be asking the poor car to keep up with a mass of changing information.

I will not say this is impossible, just very iffy. And can you imagine how expensive these cars will be? Sure the cost will go down in time, but the overall cost will still be higher. I think perhaps there is a better way. What I am going to propose is not far from what I have described above. In fact, I’m sure someone has thought of this before. Regardless, I think this is a pretty good idea, so I’m going to bring it up again.

Everyone knows what a tram is, a small electric train that usually operates within a city, often called a subway or trolley, always packed with strangers. What I’m going to propose is a hybrid between the driverless car and a tram. I like to think of it as a personalized tram because each person will have their own tram car that they can keep at home. This car can be either gas or electric, and if it is electric, it can, perhaps, be charged while driving. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe it is, but it is worth a thought.

The key to this idea is that all roads would have to have metal tracks. I’m not talking about railroad tracks; I'm talking about a small metal strip down the center of each lane of a road that the car will communicate with via a location chip embedded in the track. The track does not have to be one single line, but can be individually placed every few feet. The important part is the chip that is in it which stores its exact location. The car will learn all that it needs to know about where it is from these small chips located every few feet.

For safety reasons, a car will still need a few sensors to detect surrounding cars, just in case the main system fails. But by having a smart rail system driving will become easier, faster, and safer. Easier because all you’ll have to do is tell the tram car where you want to go, that information will be fed to the main traffic computer via WiFi, then it will figure the fastest way for you to get there. Faster because this would virtually eliminate traffic jams because the system will keep everyone going at similar speeds and along routes designed to prevent jams. And safer because your car will know what all the other cars are doing; it will know because the cars will be connected to each other by WiFi or by the central traffic computer or both.

Of course, challenges are everywhere. The big one being cost. Luckily, we already have the roads built. But location chips would have to be laid down every few feet for hundreds of thousands of miles of road. That’s a lot of money. The next challenge will be creating specialized software. Thid will also be hard and expensive. The software will need to keep up with the billions of details necessary for millions of cars to drive on the road at the same time.

So precisely how could this system work? I’m not an engineer, so what follows are just ideas. First, metal strips would have to be laid down the middle of every lane of road. This can be done in long strips or small sections of metal every foot or so. What is important is that the exact location of each section be encoded in the metal so a moving car can read it. Mostly likely this will mean some type of chip embedded the metal, but it could also be an engraved bar code that can be scanned by a moving car. I suggest using metal, instead of plastic, so it will be durable. Cars driving on the road will read the chips to determine their exact location on the road and in the city, and also to position themselves correctly while moving on the road. To know the exact location of the other cars around it, a car can either share information directly with the other cars by WiFi, or send and receive signals from a central WiFi tower, or both. For additional safety, the car can have sensors to detect cars around it to confirm the information it learns by the WiFi system.

By having the exact locations embedded in the road, the car will not be dependent on the GPS system. By having cars linked to a central traffic computer, that traffic computer can control the car, prevent traffic and accidents (no more speeding and cutting in front of people).

I should make clear that I do not envision a track that the car will ride on top of or be connected to. The connection of the car to the road will be wireless via those location chips located every few feet. The car will be constantly reading those chips to know exactly where it is. The car will then be kept straight or made to turn with robot controlled steering.

Once such a road system becomes common and the need arises, it should be possible to charge cars as they are being driven. Then an electric car that has enough battery power for only a hundred miles can go many, many hundreds of miles at a time. The car would have to have a fifth wheel that is designed to pick up electricity as it is moving. How this can be done safely I don't know; we don't want people crossing the street to be electrocuted.

Think of the benefits. Cars could actually drive themselves with no one in it. If your mom or dad needs to borrow your car; just tell the car to go to their home. Perhaps you do not own a car, tell a taxi that you need a car for 7 in the morning, and it will show up without a cab driver (not a good thing if you’re a cab driver). Imagine driving across the country, tell the car where you want to go, then read a book or sleep while the car does the hard work. Instead of buses, cities can invest in budget tram cars for its citizens.

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Consider This:

Like cars in amusement parks, our direction is often determined through collisions. -Yahia Lababidi, author (b. 1973)

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The Evolving Monkey : Personalized Driverless Tramcars
Personalized Driverless Tramcars
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The Evolving Monkey
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