Currently viewing the tag: "VII"

Treehugger wrote a good piece on how biologist Janine Benyus wants to take her work in Biomimicry to the city. Biomimicry, if you are not familiar with the term, looks at nature in order to apply some of the ways the natural world functions to manmade products or systems. One well known example of biomimcry would be robotics, where robots are often modeled after living creatures. The concept can and has been applied to other fields as well.

Transportation, for instance, could learn from ants. Ants in a trail travel in close proximity to one another at a pretty consistent distance, and never seem to get lost. They use pheromones to communicate with each other and mark their trail. If we made our transportation systems like this, with vehicles communicating with each other and with the guideway, they might see improvements in efficiency. Some of these aspects are being researched in systems like IntelliDrive, but no word yet on whether the ants provided any input on these automobile communication systems.

Hit up the link for more info on the areas Janine Benyus wants to tackle. The article doesn’t discuss transportation so much as environmental, landscape, and building aspects, but transportation is inseparable from the city and will inevitably need addressing in any projects she participates in. Janine mentioned in the article that the question being asked in applying biomimicry to cities is, “How can you have a city perform like an ecosystem?” Chew on that thought for awhile.

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Forget red light cameras like Fort Lauderdale and many other Florida cities want to install. If anything, evidence has shown that they make traffic lights worse, as the cities or the contractors decrease yellow time to hand out more tickets. No, we want to see useful technology come to our traffic lights.

Thankfully, Germany has some innovation to offer in this area. As reported on Kicking Tires, Audi has partnered with the local government of their hometown Ingolstadt to make their traffic signals smarter. The signals themselves will adapt to traffic patterns to maximize the efficiency of the network. You know how cars seem to move in bunches, or platoons, from one red light to the next? I assume this system would give a green light for the platoon and wait until a gap to switch to red.

The signals are actually communicating with the cars, so they provide the optimal speed at which the cars should be driving to catch the light on green. Unfortunately, at this time it seems to just display the speed on a screen in the dash. The driver is ultimately responsible for whether or not he will follow the suggested speed. We anxiously await the day the vehicles and the traffic signals control the speeds independently. Just bringing the technology as is to this side of the pond wouldn’t hurt, though.

Photo from Kicking Tires.

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The South Florida International Auto Show kicked off this past Friday. GM unveiled a Hybrid Cadillac Escalade with much fanfare and was showered with awards from Sobre Ruedas (including “Best Vehicle of the Year” for the 2008 Chevy Malibu, which has a hybrid option). We won’t trouble you with too many car details, but the important thing was the chance to have a few words with Troy Clarke, president of GM North America. He outlined the goal of GM’s hybrid strategy: to electrify the car (presumably with plug-in hybrids) in order to allow a distribution network to be put in place before another all-electric vehicle is released. Quite the turnaround from their previous electric car exploits.
Since GM sponsored the winning vehicle of the DARPA Urban Challenge, we asked whether they would incorporate any technology from the race into future cars. Clarke said the point of sponsoring Carnegie Mellon was indeed to look at the technology. He then focused on connected vehicles that communicate with each other for safety and network to the driver’s home to deliver things like music. He steered away from the subject of communicating with infrastructure like the road itself and focused on cars communicating with cars. GM is a car manufacturer, not a road builder, so vehicle infrastructure integration may have to be pushed by someone else.

Clarke also highlighted the current connectivity option that is supposed to become standard in all GM products: On-Star. With features like the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, the system is already controlling many basic operations of the car. He touted the On-Star system as their current offering of a connected vehicle. Surprisingly, he made no mention of adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, or other active safety features available in luxury GM models. He did remind us that most such technology begins life in luxury cars and filters down to the others once it has been proven good on the market.

It will be a long time before production vehicles achieve full automation. Until that time, On-Star and active safety systems are computerizing things and leaving in the human interaction ingredient. Looking at the theft slowdown feature, it seems like cars would be able to slowdown and stop at red lights if a few more controls were added; but stolen vehicles are only getting stopped at the command of an On-Star operator. That’s nothing more than remote control—the automation is yet to come. We have to have the computer before we have the artificial intelligence, so their progress with On-Star is at least a step in the right direction. Hopefully, just as with the hybrid strategy, they can get the network and the technology in place and then throw in full automation.

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The DARPA Urban Challenge is over, and the winners have been announced. Six out of 11 cars crossed the finish line, completely autonomous without a human driver anywhere. Why do we care about this? Because cars that drive themselves have the potential to be much safer and increase the capacity of existing highways. As long as Will Smith doesn’t switch his car over to manual control, that is.

The cars in the Urban Grand Challenge drove themselves without any changes to the highways or communication between each other. If they could do it without those two, adding them will only make fully automated cars that much closer to reality. Work is underway to develop infrastructure for highways to communicate with cars, in an initiative known as Vehicle Infrastructure Integration, or VII. It’s ostensibly for safety, which is good, but the other improvement is in efficiency, as the space between cars can be decreased and computers can precisely calculate times to let one car maneuver without slowing the others down.

The latest development with VII seems to be the opening of the Connected Vehicle Proving Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Department of Transportation seems to be making the most progress with VII, developing test beds such as that proving center to be used by the auto manufacturers. These developments could be worth paying attention to.

It is worth mentioning that improving flow on highways through automation will not come close to the capacity of mass transit (like the Metro). We wouldn’t have to worry about red light running, though.

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