Drifting across the desert for a music video: cool. Drifting around a test track in an autonomous car: also cool. Drifting out of your lane on the highway: not cool. Carmakers have been warning drivers not to leave their lanes since 2001, with subtle hints such as audible beeps or vibrating steering wheels. These early systems used cameras to track lane lines painted on the road. A decade ago, Toyota’s first lane-keeping system took over the steering wheel and nudged wayward cars back into line when the driver would not. But because these systems relied on cameras and early image-processing algorithms, they worked only where the lines were clear and in good visibility.
Today’s lane-keeping systems are evolving. The Volkswagen Touareg can track a single lane stripe, and the company claims that the car can track lanes in the dark and in the fog. It manages the feat with a single camera, unlike some systems that use stereoscopic cameras or include information from a radar or other additional sensor.
On the A-1 highway north of Madrid, Ford Spain’s press fleet manager, Eusebio Ruiz, locks his car’s radar onto another vehicle perhaps 75 meters ahead. An outline of the car appears on the dashboard with a few red bars behind it indicating the target distance. Deep memories of the film Top Gun and years of flight-simulator play kick in, and I reach for the joystick to arm my Sidewinder missiles. But the Ford Kuga is armed with neither Sidewinders nor a joystick. I sigh, click my pen, and continue taking notes as Ruiz fiddles with buttons on the steering wheel.
In the middle of the evening rush hour last November 29 more than 1,000 London cyclists staged a “die-in” to protest the traffic deaths of fellow riders and to demand more investment in bike-friendly roads. London’s streets may have grown friendlier to cyclists since the 2010 introduction of its Barclays Cycle Hire bike-sharing system but according to those at the protest, London is still too dangerous. The hundreds of cities that have launched bicycle-sharing systems in the last decade offer similar reasons for doing it: Bicycling reduces car traffic and pollution in city centers and is healthy exercise. But although all road-users benefit from less-crowded streets, a recent study suggests that the health benefits of bike-sharing programs depend on who is doing the riding.London’s bike-sharing program had registered 191,702 users at last count. Public health researcher James Woodcock at the University of Cambridge in England and his colleagues imagined, and calculated, how those riders lives might have been different had they not used the bikes. They examined data from 2.1 million hours of use between April 2011 and March 2012 and compared the health impact of those 2.1 million hours with the alternatives: more walking, public transit use or driving. To their surprise, the team reports in the February 13 BMJ (British Medical Journal), the switch to cycling may not have been helpful for young women. The health benefits also seem to differ by age, with older riders of both genders gaining more benefits than younger ones.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) will soon propose rules for vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications on U.S. roads, it announced yesterday. The agency is now finalizing a report on a 2012 trial with almost 3000 cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and will follow that report with draft rules that would “require V2V devices in new vehicles in a future year.”
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