Ma, No Hands - One of the benefits mass transit users have
over drivers is not having to pay attention to the road. But in
the not too distant future, it might be possible to own a car
where all you have to do is get on the highway and it does the
Patrol - A civil engineering professor has developed the worldâ€™s
first digital solution for recording and storing vast quantities
of information about road surfaces. (2/1/01)
You know the feeling…you're driving and fighting fatigue to stay on the
road. Someday, it might be your car that takes over and keeps you safe.
As this ScienCentral news video reports, engineers have built a car that uses
satellites to help you steer.
Steering by Remote
Over 900,000 off-roadway car crashes occurred in the United States in 2000,
according to the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over 350,000 of these crashes caused
injuries, and almost 12,000 resulted in death.
But what can be done to prevent drivers from accidentally going off the road?
A new steering system being developed by Christian Gerdes of Stanford Universityâ€™s engineering
department may help. And unlike previous
systems that take control from the driver, this system can be overridden
by the driver at any time. Gerdes says, “The idea is to develop a system
that people never want to turn off, and to be certain that it doesnâ€™t
hinder the driver in normal or emergency driving.”
How does it work?
Gerdesâ€™s steering system needs three things in order to keep the car
on the road: the location of the car, a map of the road the car is traveling,
and the ability to steer the car. All this is accomplished using a differential
Positioning System (GPS) locator, a mapping system, and a steer-by-wire
The differential GPS locator determines the position of the car (in Gerdesâ€™s
case, a black
Corvette). In simple terms, the GPS receiver uses information provided
by satellites and a ground station, called the base station. A cell phone
or other wireless device is used to “call” the base station. Since
the base station knows where it is, it can figure out any error in the satellite
signal that is due to the atmosphere. When that correction is made, the new
system identifies the position of the car within an inch of its actual location.
But just because the system knows where the car is doesnâ€™t mean the car
is on a road or knows where to go. In order to keep the car on the road, a
map of the road must be entered into the system. Gerdes says that you only
have to drive a road once to enter a map of it.
And unlike the mechanical steering systems used in most of todayâ€™s cars,
the steer-by-wire system uses electrical signals to turn the wheels. This
is what allows Gerdesâ€™s system to be steered remotely.
Altogether, the GPS locator identifies the position of the car and compares
the carâ€™s path to the road on the map. If adjustments in the steering
need to be made and the driver isnâ€™t steering, the steer-by-wire system
makes the adjustments, steering the car to follow the road.
When will it be ready for us?
“It depends on the manufacturers and incorporation of the steer-by-wire
system,” says Gerdes. But he thinks these Knight
Rider-esque cars might hit the public “as early as five years from
The system needs further testing, and Gerdes wants to add upgrades to keep
the driver comfortable, and an indicator to let the driver know when the system
His research was supported by the National
Science Foundation, General
Motors, and DaimlerChrysler.