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Rolling into the future

The future of the automobile in the next few years is going to be very exciting, even incredible.  As electronics, computers and great designs get more refined and less expensive; they enter the automotive world more often. Electronic systems and motors are so dependable now, cars are chock full of them. Vehicles now operate with more than 100 million lines of software code, and that number is predicted to go to 300 million lines of code. (More than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner)

Some newer high-end cars have up to 100 electronic control units (ECU) with 25 to 200 microprocessors. To keep all these communications working, vehicles are using FlexRay, CAN Bus and LIN (motor control) systems.  Basic vehicles have about 1,350 wires for about 1.5 miles in length: high-end vehicles have up to 2,300 wires adding up to about 2.6 miles of wires.  Plus, modern vehicles can contain up to 100 electric motors and solenoids.  That’s a far cry from the 1960s cars.

We have all heard about the next generation of technologies, here are the five levels of automation and driver’s assistance that are a reality of new vehicle:.

  1. In the most basic stage of automation, the driver does all the work but the vehicle can take over one of two vital functions - steering or speed controls. An example would be adaptive cruise control, which keeps the vehicle in front of you at the same distance. The vehicle can accelerate or brake. The steering assist would happen if you change lanes without using your turn signal, for example; brakes on one side would apply, nudging you back into your lane.
  2. Partial automation:  The more advanced cars today can take over steering, acceleration and braking. Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo are doing this now.
  3. Conditional automation: This car can drive itself but the driver needs to be behind the wheel to take over if intervention is needed, as if the car’s system gets confused. The newest Tesla has this.
  4. High Automation: This is where the driver lets the car take complete control. This level of sophistication is not currently available to consumers, but is being tested in some areas by Google, BMW, Bosch, GM, Benz, Nissan, Tesla, Ford and Uber. Lots of input and the roads need to be mapped to the inch with all the inputs we see such as lights, intersections, crosswalks etc.
  5. Full Automation: This would describe George Jetson’s vehicle if you remember that futuristic cartoon. All control are built in, and this kind of vehicle would have no steering wheel or pedals for driver input. I know of none of these in reality.

There are many advantages to the idea of fully or partially self-driving vehicles. About 94 percent of crashes occur because of driver’s errors, so these vehicles would be safer. Imagine if all vehicles could “talk” to each other; the chances of a crash would be eliminated. Traffic would flow smoother on freeway, and the “wave” of vehicles speeding up and slowing down could be eliminated. Driving faster and smoother would allow more vehicles to efficiently use the same road.

The downside would be the process of people learning to ‘trust” smart vehicles, but after a short time driving with these system in place, one’s fear would ease.

The cost of equipping these vehicles would be great but the real challenge would be “mapping the roads “so a vehicle would know where it was going if clues where taken away.  Knocked down or defaced stop signs, a snow covered highway or a whole multitude of other problems.

Want to lean more? Join me at City Club of Eugene forum, “The Age of Self-Driving Cars,” on Friday, May 12th at 975 High Street noon to 1 pm, get there early for the best seating. I’m going to be the first questioner.

I’m excited for the futures of vehicles. Repairing vehicles for over 42 years, the changes have been incredible.

 

Tips

1.         Lighten your key chain; if you have lots of keys or other stuff on your keychain, it put extra strain on your ignition lock tumblers. Remove these will extend the life of those tumbles saving you money and inconvenience.

2.         Driving a pre-2000 vehicle.  These are easy for thieves to still, more if it’s a 1990s Toyota or Honda. Keep your vehicle safe by installing a steering wheel lock like the Club. The Club is available from the Eugene Police Department for $12.50; it’s a cheap price for peace of mind.

3.         Buying a vehicle for the young adult who just turned 16? Newer vehicles have so many more safety features, both to stay out of a crash, ABS brakes, traction and stability controls. If a crash happens, advance air bags systems may make a huge difference. Buy newer and safer.

4.         If an animal jumps out in front of you, continue to look where you want to go, not at the animal. Where you look, the car will go. Apply brakes firmly but don’t swerve to avoid the animal, staying on the road is the safest thing to do. This simple tip will save you for injury or worse.

Question or comments? You can e-mail me at george1502@gmail.com. I will answer all questions promptly and use the best for this column

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