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LaterLife TechnoFile

Modern technology has so much scope and power to dramatically improve our lives. However it also changes at an incredibly fast rate, and keeping abreast of what's out there, and how it can help you, is a full time job!

So to accompany the 150+ articles in Jackie Sherman's YoucandoIT Question & Answer series we are introducing a new article series: The LaterLife TechnoFile

Technofile will help you to understand some of the bewildering array of technology available today, and possibly help to keep up with your grandchildren!

Automating Automotives

Perfect Parking

"Parking". A word that can fill people with dread, rage, or smug satisfaction. On seeing a car overhanging into an adjacent space or parked several feet away from the curb you might think: "that could be me!"; "how inconsiderate!"; "you'd never catch me parking like that!"

Even when someone is confident at parking, all it takes is someone to be badly parked next to you, or even worse having an audience, to become thrown off and exacerbate the problem.

However in answer to this perennial parking problem, technology is coming to the rescue as more cars are starting to incorporate devices to improve the ease of parking or even remove the troublesome 'human element' - to appropriate a bit of mechanic slang: "PEBSWAS" (Problem Exists Between Steering Wheel and Seat).

Front and back cameras, as well as proximity sensors that beep in relation to the nearness of objects, are becoming relatively commonplace in modern vehicles and can help a driver manoeuvre themselves better. It gives a bigger picture of what is happening at a bumper level as well as giving clear warnings if a driver hasn’t accounted for a misplaced traffic cone behind them for example.

Self-parking systems offer an automatic, and in theory, stress free simple system that steers the car into a space for the driver. Usually just a button push away, self-parking can be speed controlled with the acceleration and brake pedal. In this case the troublesome steering is left up to the car’s on-board computer system.

Different cars use differing systems but one method involves sensors placed around the car which communicate with the computer system to relate how much distance other objects are from your vehicle. The latest sensors that are being implemented can also be used for other advantages like monitoring environmental conditions, for instance wipers being triggered when it rains or lights being automatically turned on when you enter a tunnel. Driving is certainly going high tech.

Easy-Driving through Convoys

To return to the technique of actual driving, so far we have mentioned options that give the driver more control but don’t allow the car to be completely self-reliant (no more PEBSWAS!). There are new and more advanced options that are expected to come out of development sometime in the future, and that future may not be as far away as you thought.

Volvo has long been championing the implementation of a self-drive convoy to be used on motorways. Back in 2009 they said that ‘cars that drive themselves can become reality within ten years.’ Having teamed up with the EU for project SARTRE, it is hoped that this can be achieved. But what are ‘road trains’ and ‘self-drive car convoys’?

In effect this method involved a line of cars following one another. The cars interact through a transmitter and receiver unit that communicates between a lead vehicle and your own. The driver of the lead vehicle will drive just as they would normally, however it is also given control of your vehicle's driving functions. Whilst in the convoy (of up to 8 cars) you are free to make a phone call, eat your lunch or perhaps watch a film. Then once your junction is approaching the controls are gradually given back to you, so that you can exit the convoy and carry on your journey. If there were any cars behind you in the convoy they would then automatically close the gap.

This method offers many advantages including improving road safety and making journeys less arduous. There are also efficiency expectations as not only will the lead vehicle stick to speed limits but due to the reduced drag of being in a convoy.

Look Ma! No Hands!

A step up from this development is nobody having that control element. The idea of leaving everything up to your vehicle might seem strange but Google’s self-driving car project is aiming to do just that. We highly recommend you watch the video below to get a feel for Google’s latest prototypes.

Working with a battery of sensors, powerful and sophisticated onboard computers and astonishingly clever realtime mapping of everything in the car's immediate area via LiDAR (a portmanteau word combining "Light" and "Radar" to describe the use of lasers to determine distance, rather than radio waves), the self-drive vehicle Google is hoping to create doesn’t even include a steering wheel. With a goal of taking away all the driving operations of a car from the occupants; they have created taxi pods - their answer to some of the safety and congestion issues our roads currently have.

In the UK 4 locations have been announced as hosting projects next year to test driverless cars and their future on Bristish roads. So if you live in Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry or Milton Keynes don't be too surprised if some sunny day a car lets you out at a junction, and there's a disturbing lack of somebody to wave at!

Although quite a bit of this technology has a while to wait until it is fully developed, it also has substantial hurdles to overcome to be accepted on our roads. Giving control over to computer drivers may turn out to be the safest thing to do, and we all know at least one driver who we'd happily replace with a robot, but questions remain over important issues such as whether driverless cars could cope with potentially erratic human drivers in other cars, sudden deer, potholes, 'variable' standards of gritting and the various other joys of driving in the UK. Would that mean an all or none approach? And perhaps most intriguingly where would responsibility lie in the event of a truly driverless vehicle being involved in an accident?

Let us know what you think below

Do you think removing the human elements of driving is a good thing?

We asked Readers the above question and we got a lot of responses with many of you answering no. Find some of your comments below:

  • Its like handling explosives they are safe until you forget they are dangerous. Murphys law states if in the remotest chance it could go wrong; it will
  • What about Software errors, bug and glitches or Viruses?
  • I wonder who would be liable if the automated element went haywire and you ended up smashing into someone elses car. I bet the manufacturer would find every piece of small print not to be liable
  • Not total removal. I would certainly support a reduction of the human element but there are too many complexities as well as the couple you have mentioned. How would they cope with giving way to emergency vehicles, children running in the road, roadworks etc? An excellent aspiration that needs development.
  • Any thing that makes driving safer has to be a good thing
  • I feel that parking sensors and cameras can be a good thing specifically for disabled drivers, but full automation will eventually lead to lazy drivers, who will blame the car when something goes wrong. Was it the cars fault??
  • There is always an element of surprise when driving both short and long distances. Automated systems are unlikely to cope with surprises.

Previous Articles:

Solar Power
National Home Security Month
Can technology ever replace people in the care industry?
Planning Your Holiday - Online
Techno Phone not Technophobe
Bio-Printing: What it is and what does it mean?
7 of the Best Free Healthcare Related Apps

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