Thursday, July 09, 2009
I've been wondering for a long time why the GMs and Chryslers of the world are so clueless about roboticizing our vehicles. Are they just stupid? Or are they locked into an irrelevant mindset, unable to think outside the box-on-wheels?
I think it's too late for the Big Auto industry. But there is plenty of opportunity for creative designers and engineers, to integrate new technology to create something that the public really wants, and that can improve the quality of life for all of us.
An example is this: atnmbl.
It's an encouraging design exercise for an automonous vehicle. The designers started by completely revisiting the driving experience. Think of all the things you can't do while driving: reading, sleeping, cooking a meal, enjoying a cocktail, playing a video game, logging onto Facebook, and much more.
Their conclusion was this: during driving, your entire life goes on
Then they started asking, what SHOULD the driving experience be like? Their conclusion was that not having to drive would be the biggest improvement of the experience.
Once they determined that driverless driving was a design goal, they researched the state of technology. Programs like DARPA's Grand Challenge have shown that, with GPS, machine vision and the latest sensor suites, the task of driving CAN be handled automatically. The proof-of-concept has been done, the earliest (very expensive) prototypes have been built and tested, and now it's just up to Moore's Law to make it affordable.
So, given that driverless vehicles are both desirable and possible, what would one actually look like?
Design firm Mike and Maaike (pronounced MYY-kuh) reached the conclusion that an automous vehicle would look more like a dwelling than a teardrop, or an insect, or a crouching tiger. They came up with a vehicle they call atnmbl, short for Autonomobile. The atnmbl has panoramic windows, an entertainment center, and a wide, comfy couch suitable for up to seven passengers.
The atnmbl not only focuses on efficiency of task, it redefines that task. If you aren't having to put your life on hold to drive, then speeding dangerously to your destination is not important. Acceleration and top speed requirements are reduced, because they just aren't important anymore.
What's important is that you are free to go about your business while you travel. You don't even have to worry about parking; the atnmbl can drop you off at your destination, and go park itself. Or, it can go take someone else somewhere. This eliminates the biggest waste that cars represent: vast parking lots filled with cars that are used twice a day.
If you own your atnmbl, you can offer it for hire at a price that is automatically negotiated for you. Or, you can just hire one by TXTing or calling from your cellphone.
Some models might be equipped with a microwave, so you can warm your breakfast on the way to work. Some might be equipped with a self-cleaning bath/shower, so you can drag yourself from bed directly to your commute. Or you could hire a long-distance sleeper model in the evening, spend a few hours enjoying the entertainment, retire for bed, get up and shower in the morning, and step out at your destination fresh and ready to go.
Some people will simply SEND an atnmbl to pick up their groceries for them; without drivers, and being completely solar-powered, it will be cheap to do so. Your children will be able to travel in perfect safety without you, because there's a reliable driver built into the vehicle.
• fully electric powered plus solar assist
• driverless navigation via GPS, Lidar, radar, accelerometers
• wrap-around seating for 7
• voice recognition and remote for real-time control/ input
• large display for info, searches, browsing, communication
• open-source software with downloadable apps for carpool and car-share
through social networking, pre-loaded trips, city tours, virtual
• live trip info on mini display
• electric door, standing height entryway
• electronically tinted windows
• all wheel drive with motors in each wheel
• very few mechanical parts (drive by wire)