The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles
Lynn Chow 3/30/2012
When the February 2012 edition of WIRED magazine appeared in my mailbox last month, the cover immediately captured my attention. “Your Next Car Will Drive Itself!” it claimed. “No traffic jams. No crashes. Unlimited texting.” 1 Intrigued, I immediately turned to and consumed the article finding myself fascinated by the notion of this autonomous vehicle. Alas, between work and school, I realized there would be little opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts discussed by Tom Vanderbilt. 2 As if to answer my silent sigh of resignation, the first set of ISTM 6406 slides appeared in Blackboard, informing me of a term paper requirement related to Decision Support Systems (DSS) and offering Artificial Intelligence (brain of an autonomous vehicle) as a specific study area. Given this opportunity to expand my knowledge of an autonomous vehicle while relating its base decision making functions to DSS, I use this term paper to provide an overview of autonomous vehicles, describe how they relate to DSS, explore their current and potential future applications, and identify some of the challenges they face. As a wrap up, I include some of my personal thoughts on the long term viability of the autonomous vehicle.
2.0 Autonomous Vehicles
To initiate discussion, it is useful to establish common lexicon. What exactly is an autonomous vehicle? In 2003 the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms defined an autonomous vehicle as “a vehicle that is able to plan its path and to execute its plan without human intervention.” (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, 2003) While this definition remains accurate, the transpiring decade brings technological advances, dedicated engineers, and live demonstrations which add a degree of functional granularity to the general definition. PCMag.com Encyclopedia now defines an autonomous vehicle as “A passenger vehicle that drives by itself. Also known as the ‘driverless car,’ it automatically steers the vehicle by sensing the painted lines in the road or a magnetic monorail embedded in the road.” (PCMag.com Encyclopedia, 2011)
Cover of WIRED magazine, Feb 2012 (hard copy) Author of “Let the Robot Drive”, WIRED magazine, Feb 2012
2.1 Recent History
Since the 1980s, television has teased consumers with the notion of self-aware vehicles with humor, judgment, and even personality. For example, from 1982-1986, Knight Industries Two Thousand (more affectionately known as KITT) was an artificially intelligent black Trans Am partnered with Michael Knight to fight crime in NBC’s Knight Rider. Other media highlights include Batman’s Batmobile throughout the 1990s or the generally accepted standard transportation depicted in Will Smith’s iRobot. In parallel, but outside of Hollywood’s special effects, however, true research on exactly this type of vehicle had begun. The advent of drive-by-wire technology, “electronically controlled moving parts that actuate essential components like throttles, steering, and brakes” brought with it instantaneous response and the potential for computer control. Chrysler introduces anti-lock brakes in the 1970s. In 1988, BMW produced a drive-by-wire throttle to enable the traction-control system to adjust engine speed and limit wheel spin. (Brown, 2010) Toyota debuts radar-based adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe driving distance from the car ahead in 1997. Through the first decade of the new millennium, Mercedes, Infinity, Volvo, Lexus, Volkswagon and others introduce All Wheel Drive, Electronic Stability Control, Dynamic Steering Response, and other drive-by-wire technologies to the market. While most of this technology is familiar to recent car purchasers, they remain in the “driver assist” category. In 2004, 2005, and 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) used a series of competitions to challenge...
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