Tag Archives: technology

Driverless Cars And The Future Revisited

There has been a lot of press lately about the advent of driverless cars in the near future.  Many are predicting that they will be common in another decade.  They have already been experimenting with some and they allegedly work just fine.   Heck folks are already noting that there will be a plethora of novel issues that will arise because of this new technological wonder.   Maybe it really will happen this time.  There have been many predictions in the past of some great leap forward in the technology of automobiles before.  If you read Look or Life magazines 60 years ago there were pundits who were predicting that most cars within a short time would really be flying cars.   They had lots of prototypes during that era.  Some were small with wings that would fold up or down just like the fighter aircraft on aircraft carriers during WWII.   Many others were a miniature helicopter.   There were predictions that the suburbs would be even farther removed from the city center and that fewer roads would be necessary because so many commuters would be flying in to work.  They believed the Interstate highway system had done all that was necessary the big challenge was going to be creating and controlling the flying lanes in and out of the city with different flight levels for inbound and outbound traffic and then the cross traffic.   Of course many really smart people were shortly predicting also that we were about to enter a new Ice Age.  The cost of the new control systems and the cars themselves were to be mostly covered by the gazillions of dollars saved in not building new highways.   They were going to be the next Big Thing.  How many flying cars you seen in your neighborhood lately?

Cars can be made to drive without human control now using off the shelf technology but it would have to be integrated to work properly.   The primary components will be a gyroscope of one type or the other, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), an inertial navigation system, GPS and radar.   We have all these already and have had some for over a century but they will have to be coordinated with a master computer software system even though the MEMS is a miniature computer and GPS works with computers.   We’ve had gyroscopes since early in the 20th century.  A fellow named Sperry developed the one that was the most famous and was used by the US Navy and other Navies around the world for decades.  It was purely mechanical and expensive to make but quite accurate.  What you say is the purpose of a gyroscope–the found true North.   You know that magnetic north is off by several degrees and hundreds of miles from the North Pole.   A gyroscope is  essentially a spinning wheel that never stops, indeed that is the whole point.  When operational the spinning gyroscope will aligned itself with the spinning axis of the Earth.  I don’t pretend to understand the physics of this but trust those guys in the lab coat it works.  It is momentum.   Once you know true north then you can start figuring out where you are, where you have been and where you are going.   They now have laser type gyroscope that serve the same purpose.  The MEMS measure torque and acceleration.  They use tiny mechanical measures and electric impulses to do this.  I can’t explain the science behind them but they work and have for a couple of decades.  By the way these tiny devices are already in use in your air bag deployment system and your electronic games and inkjet printer.   The gyroscope allows you to determine yaw, pitch, roll and direction of the vehicle it is in but it doesn’t tell you where you are without reference to something else.  The Inertial navigation system is used by the military because it doesn’t depend on outside factors to determine the direction of movement.  this is used for our rockets and cruise missiles.  It can’t be electronically jammed which is important in military terms but again it won’t really tell you where you are going.

So you need mapping by the traditional method even though enhanced with computer readings from “maps” built into the rocket or car or a GPS.  The GPS has been mostly used now for a couple of decades.  With GPS or mapping in the system then the “car” will know where it is and where it is going.   Lastly the car will have a small radar system to see objects, like other moving cars, and thus “advise” the total system when to turn or stop or slow down to avoid collision.  So all the parts to work the car and control its speed movement direction and acceleration are in place.  They will have to be coordinated by and utilize a master software program.    Many of the parts and pieces as you know are already in place in the newer cars today.  They all have GPS and those MEMS and some are getting radar.

First thing that concerns me is the idea of hacking.  Gee, the papers are filled almost daily with some story about hackers getting into all kinds of vital systems, banking, military, dams, Social Security, etc.  What will happen to the traffic on your favorite Interstate highway when  some pimply faced teenager hacks into the highway/car control system?   Or even worse a foreign entity that wishes us ill.  Of even greater concern will be a hacking into the GPS system.  So much of our modern world is now dependent on GPS that simply shutting it down or scrambling the signals would wreak untold havoc throughout our civilized world.  There is the conspiracy case to be made that the Government could shut down the system any time it wanted and ground us all for whatever their reason.  Remember the Boston lock down of just a couple of weeks ago? Imagine that anytime the Government thought it advisable.

There is also the question of the countless people who prefer to be in charge, they want to be driving that car not be dependent on some unseen distant computer system.  They like driving in addition to be a Type A personality.  Just because we can do it will that whole new system be marketable?   Will we be willing to pay the extra costs.  Of course there is the problem of computer shut down.  Not hacking just the typical computer crash.  We all know that does happen.  For whatever reason it just goes kablooey.   Be rather awkward at 70 miles an hour.   We’ll see how it turns out, or at least many of you will.

“Predictions are hard things, especially about the future.”  Yogi Berra baseballer extraordinaire.   http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com



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Love/Hate Relationship With Technology

We all love technology and the advances and conveniences it brings to our lives.  Of course we are often dragged kicking and screaming into the actual use of such new devices.  We love it but the mechanics of changing over to a new system is fraught with perils, not to say curses and frustrations.  We have all had the joy at one time or another of assembling one of those toys on Christmas Eve with instructions written apparently by the poorest student in the English class in Japan, explaining how to insert part A into the receptacle in Part B but placing the flange in an upward spiral motion.   Not to despair you aren’t the first one to deal with something new.

The first guy who brought in his brand new bow and arrow set to the cave might well have been ridiculed for spending his time on making a childish musical instrument to strum with that stick.  And by the way, that stick was dangerous because it had a sharp point!  Even after its intended use was explained there was no doubt some guy in the back with a beer belly talking about how a real man would take on the saber tooth tiger with his bare hands and a sharpen stone.   What a sissy way to kill game.

When Morse first introduced the telegraph there were detractors who said that no one would have anything important enough to say and pay those high prices to save only a few days in the post with a letter.  And all that cryptic language to save money was an affront to the King’s English.  (Ok, you history buffs it would have been the Queen’s English at that time).  Well, somehow it turned out there were lots of people who wanted to use the telegram and did so for about a century on a regular basis.

When Alex Bell perfected the telephone the money men on Wall Street wouldn’t back him.  They thought is was a silly toy that no serious people would want to use.  If you wanted to have just a conversation you could send a letter and if it was important there was always the telegram.  Lo and behold, turns out those guys underestimated the females of America.  They could talk for hours and now they weren’t just limited to gossip over the back fence anymore.  Today we all have to dodge those neighborhoods moms driving around with that phone permanently attached to their ear. 

I don’t like it that every time we get something new in the house I have to call one of my kids to come help me install the thing.  I swear even something as simple as a coffee pot as gone digital and requires a degree from MIT to “program” it.   What happened I wonder to all those millions of old coffee pots with the stem in the middle that you filled with coffee and then water in the pot and put it on the range top?  You could make a great cup of coffee and didn’t have to read any instructions or use a touch screen to get  it.   Forget about even trying to get a new TV.  Now that requires some really advanced electronic savvy.  They all have so many holes and outlets and “ports” all over them and you kid on the phone simply can’t understand that you have no idea what a USB or UBS or whatever is, where it is or what it is for.  Those little openings everywhere have these weird symbols on them.  They make the Rosetta Stone look easy.  The cuneiform writings of the Code of Hammarubi look simple compared to them.   The kids act like you are some kind of yokel who can’t read and write.  I never have seen any of them study these things, never heard of any of them taking classes.  They seem to acquire this knowledge by drinking the water.   Where did they learn all this stuff.

I do remember the one advance that I thought was terrific–the original remote controls for TV.  The sets were mostly black and white still but they gave a pretty good quality picture if you adjusted the antenna just so.  But I hated the constant jumping up and down to change channels or change stations or adjust the sound.  If you were married in those days it was the wife’s job (and revenge) to shout a stream of instructions about such changes from the kitchen even though she couldn’t even see the TV.  It was hard work jumping up and down from the couch to make all those trips to the set.  I wonder if the modern c0ncern over obesity could be linked to the use of TV remotes?   Anyway, those first remotes only controlled the station and the volume.   But you didn’t have to leap off the couch to go do it to please the little lady.  Hmm, you think that loss of some control over the situation made the ladies more feisty and led to the increase in the divorce rate in the last four decades?  

Now it is the new cars.  No key! Who ever heard of such a thing.  Screens on the dashboard that steadily bombard you with more information than you want or could use.  And those seats, they start moving on their own when you sit down.  I about leapt out of the car the first time that happened.  I mean, who is in charge here, me or some sinister being inside that dashboard.  For those of you who can’t live without your new robotic car with GPS and Onstar tracking, those Iphones, Ipads and security systems controlled from some mysterious place within those, I wish you luck in your brace new world.  I still feel safer cranking the starter by hand and trust my pen and ink on paper to guide me in life.  I left the fast lane for the placid lane.   Now I need to pull up my Turbo Tax before the deadline.

Why am I not comforted to know that Eric Holder will decide on a case by case basis which of the terrorists caught in the war on terror will be tried in civilian court?   Could it be the fiasco of the KSM trial being scheduled by him for Manhattan.  What a brilliant idea.  www.olcranky.wordpress.com

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