Driver-Less Cars – Are They the Future?

Even though we are now well into the computer age, people still find it hard to comprehend that autonomous driver-less cars that resemble ‘Kit’ in Knightrider or the Batmobile in Batman, with their futuristic ability to maneuver themselves, are a part of our new reality. Yet for almost a decade Google, the internet search giant, has been busy bringing this very concept onto American roads. Google driver-less cars have now completed 750,000 miles on the road without the occurrence of any major incident and the company announces with confidence, that driver-less car technology, at least as far as cars on the highway are concerned, is a reality. They are confident that their cars can handle just about any scenario that crops up on the highway. Driver-less car technology has become hot news, every major car company is involved in research in this area. Now Google are trying out their driver-less car technology in towns and cities, admittedly with a little less success than they have had on the highway.

The solution that occurs to most people when driver-less cars are mentioned is that it must be some kind of v2n solution where vehicles are directly communicating with the net through fixed nodal points all over the city, that can track every car, and keep the traffic going by diverting and directing traffic so that everything runs smoothly. This kind of system would be a natural precursor to a driver-less car system. Yet Google has taken the diametrically opposite path by relying almost completely on sensors within the car that interact and respond to the outside world, these sensors together with intensive mapping applications and GPS (although at present GPS is only good to 10 metres or so) are used in a combined operation to guide the vehicle. This is probably because a network connected driver-less car solution would involve numerous repeaters and boosters and would be prohibitively costly in terms of power consumption, infrastructure and bandwidth usage. Google should know! Yet the technology that Google uses does not come cheap either, coming in at something like $100,000 give or take a few thousand dollars, this does not make it a choice for the man on the street. Apart from this, the emphasis placed on input from sensors to maneuver the vehicle, also makes the technology hugely complicated. The prospects for seeing driver-less cars on city and town streets in the near future do not look too bright right now although they will probably soon be a common sight on the highway.

Now an Indian company, Trigon, claims to have invented a new driver-less car technology that will cost a fraction of the Google driver-less Car System and will work almost flawlessly in virtually any conditions. Any successful driver-less car technology will require split second timing and excellent co-ordination and response times in order to be able to self maneuver under normal traffic conditions. Rather than trying to solve the problem through loading up with a huge number of sensors as in the Google, Mercedes and Toyota driver-less car systems. The driver-less car solution designed by Trigon uses LIDAR mapping through diffuse laser screening of the surroundings, and a minimum number of small cameras. Detailed information gained about the route in this manner is stored in the cars computers. This means that a car would first have to be driven over a given route before it is able to drive that route on its own. It should be mentioned here that the efficiency and accuracy of 3D LIDAR mapping has kept pace with computers as they have improved in performance. It is therefore now possible to achieve 3D mapping in what amounts to real time. However, the company soon came to the conclusion that using only cameras and LIDAR output would be time consuming, inaccurate and lack consistency; some other solution would have to be found. This is where Trigon has made a breakthrough. The reasoning behind the new Trigon driver-less technology is simple; all cars have brake lights, all cars have indicators, insurance, number plates and so on. Why not accept the fact that driver-less car technology is here, why deny the existence of the technology?

Basically what this means is that since the technology does exist and has been proven to exist, why not adjust infrastructure to accept this fact. What Trigon is suggesting is that all vehicles such as cars, buses, bikes etc., irrespective of whether they are equipped with driver-less car technology or not, be compulsorily equipped with the latest RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Tag) tags that are capable of relaying real time information. These tags will function vehicle to vehicle and not in vehicle to network mode and therefore will not impact on communications or take up unreasonable amounts of bandwidth. In fact precisely these kinds of RFID tags are being used to transport nuclear materials. These advanced RFID tags can monitor temperature, pressure, humidity and the state of the sealing on nuclear packaging and can be read from a hundred metres away without line of sight. The RFID tags that Trigon will be using give the dimensions, weight, orientation and speed of the vehicle, no other information will be given thus preserving privacy. The RFID tags can be read from 100 metres away (more if needed) without line of sight and run off the car battery supply using negligible amounts (a few millwatts) of current. What this means is that any car equipped with Trigon driver-less car technology would have a 3D picture of the traffic immediately around it in real time, giving the dimensions, speed, weight and line of approach of these vehicles. These RFID tags would cost less than $20 to install and if they are installed in all cars would make driver-less technology a cake walk. It would be easier and less complicated than the systems used by the Post Office to sort through letters based on zip codes or even the baggage handling machinery at airports. This is because instead of sensors collecting information and analyzing it, all relevant information to maneuver the vehicle would come to the vehicle itself, it is then a simple question of using software based on old fashioned Newtonian laws of motion to maneuver in the correct direction at the appropriate speed. The technology allows for up to 2000 RFID tags to be read simultaneously, which is overkill because cars on the road will interact at the very most with eight other vehicles in their immediate vicinity at any given time. Further, because of the limited amount of information being conveyed, the problem of clogging up bandwidth does not arise it is a non sequitur. What this means in effect is that using this system a jump start in getting driver-less car technology on the roads is possible. Cars can opt to install the technology or not, but whichever cars do opt for the system will have a system that works.

This is not a new precedent, for instance when motor cars were still a novelty, it was found that the available roads were too difficult for them to maneuver on, this resulted in people campaigning for the ‘Good Roads Movement’ with the result that the U.S. Government started allocating funds to build motor-able roads, the rest is history. Cell phones had a similar experience, it was the putting up of numerous towers and repeaters that made cell phones and anywhere in the world communication, a success. Today cell phones are as ubiquitous as clothing.

The advantages of implementing such a driver-less car system are numerous, starting off with safety, economy, savings in time and practically maintenance free driving. This is because the cars use Newtonian laws of motion, where it is necessary to know the loaded weight of the car at any given stage in order to calculate the appropriate speed at which to travel, thus the system has a fair idea of what the ‘normal’ response of the car should be, any deviation from this standard performance would be noted, analysed,reported and hopefully rectified. Another huge advantage of the system is the tremendous savings made in fuel due to the efficient stopping starting and running of the cars. Traffic jams would be a thing of the past and as a result large amounts of fuel would be saved. The preferred platform of the driver-less car system are hybrids like the Toyota Prius or even all electric cars like the Tesla.

It is time for the U.S.A to once again lead the world and set the pace in path breaking technologies, driver-less car technology might be one such technology that can be gainfully implemented.

A Peep Into the Future Tech Innovations at CES 2017

Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held every year in January at Las Vegas is a premier electronic convention held annually for showcasing exceptional technological advancements in the consumer electronics industry. This year, the 4-day event held from January 5 through January 8, 2017, marked its 50th anniversary with 3,886 exhibitors showing off myriad revolutionary tech trends and avant-garde gadgets that will drive the future of technology globally.

It goes without saying that Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence voice assistant ‘Alexa’ has been the star of the show as several Alexa-enabled next-generation devices including voice-controlled smart-home gadgets, cars, and robots were displayed at the event. Alexa, which has outperformed Google Assistant and Siri can be programmed to perform multiple functions such as starting your car, locking doors, adjusting thermostats, controlling lights, and finding locations.

Now let’s throw light on the futuristic innovations witnessed at CES 2017 that will have a major impact in the coming years.

1. Tech innovations in Smartphones: Qualcomm unveiled its latest processor named Snapdragon 835 for revolutionizing mobile technology. Snapdragon 835 aims to bring High Dynamic Range to smartphones besides facilitating better virtual experience by enhancing sight and sound for mobile Virtual Reality. The new processor will also enable smartphones to produce high-resolution photos even in poor lighting conditions. It will also facilitate faster connection by paving the way towards 5G network. Moreover, the chip also guarantees longer battery life as it consumes 50% less power compared to Snapdragon 801. Additionally, biometric sensors embedded in the 835 promises better security to smartphone users.

World’s first smartphone with molecular-sensors “H2” was also unveiled at CES. This 6-inch Android phone can scan any object to provide you with instant feedback on its chemical composition, be it food items or medicines.

2. A Glimpse Into the 5G future: Qualcomm demonstrated the various ways its technology is going to empower the 5G future. At CES, the CEO of Qualcomm Stephen Mollenkopf asserted that 5g will be a ground-breaking network that will support a wide array of devices with exceptional speed and scale. Moreover, it will have a significant impact on world economy.

At the convention, American technology company Intel too launched its 5G Modem which can deliver 5G in both mmWave spectrum and 6GHz bands. Besides this, Intel also unveiled its new automotive 5G platform named Intel Go to support automated driving.

3. Cloud-Based Innovations: CES 2017 also witnessed numerous cloud-based announcements. Nvidia grabbed the attention of PC gamers by launching its cloud program ‘GeForce Now’ for PC and Mac that will enable gamers to transform their PC into a sophisticated gaming rig to stream and play the latest games of their choice.

Besides this, world’s first cloud-based keyboard ‘the 5Q’ also made its debut at the event. The special function of this keyboard is that it will be connected to the cloud and display color-coded email notifications, sports updates, and stock quotes on the keys of the keyboard.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Stole the Show: AI undoubtedly took centre stage throughout CES 2017. AI has been featured as an integral part of almost everything- from smart jeans that show directions, and smart pet collars to feel your pet’s emotions, to smart gloves for stroke victims and smart vehicles. These computerized brains are empowering humans to replicate virtual worlds besides endowing computers with the intelligence to comprehend the real world.

· AI-powered Cars: Automobile companies are focusing on AI-powered vehicles as the day is not far when customers will seek self-driving cars. Smart car manufacturers will soon come up with AI-powered cars that can generate their own emotions because soon customers will opt for cars with which they can establish the best emotional relationship. CES 2017 saw the launch of many AI-powered emotional cars including Honda’s NeuV that features HANA (Honda’s Automated Network Assistant) to personalize the driver’s experience. HANA’s face recognition technology and heart-rate monitor assist the electric car to understand your happy and melancholic moods. It can also suggest music based on your mood besides remembering your favorite places such as cafe’s, parks, etc.

Toyota too released its futuristic car the “Concept-I”, powered by AI technology that can comprehend the need of the driver as well as passengers. Likewise, Nvidia introduced its self-driving car system named Drive PX designed to comprehend the driver’s mood, the car’s environment and figure out what is going on in the interior of the car.

· AI-powered Health-tech Devices: In order to incorporate advanced technology and new-age thinking to the workout routine of fitness freaks, fitness technology companies unveiled a range of sophisticated fitness wearable devices at the CES. For example,Boltt, a Mumbai-based fitness tech company unveiled AI-packed fitness trackers, smart shoes embedded with stride sensor, and a virtual health assistant named “B” that provides users with real-time feedback and voice coaching on health and fitness.

The show also displayed digestive trackers to help users determine the type of diet that is ideal for their body, and a smart hairbrush embedded with sensors that can detect how you brush your hair so that it can train you to correctly brush your hair by sending data to your connected smartphone.

The world’s first smart toothbrush Kolibree Ara was also launched at the show. It features deep machine learning algorithms to understand and provide feedback about your brushing habits even if it is not connected to your smartphone. What’s more, CES 2017 also saw the launch of Sleep Number 360 bed which has been designed to prevent snoring.

5. Humanoid Robots: CES 2017 also introduced the world to the mind-blowing capabilities of human-like robots. At the event, LG unveiled three robots- to mow your lawn, to take care of your daily chores, and to welcome you at the airport. Besides this, quite a few educational robots were also displayed at the event for children. Additionally, there were a lot of humanoid robots designed for making your coffee, folding clothes, pouring candy, singing lullabies to your kids and taking photos of your pet when you are away. World’s first robotic suitcase Cowarobot also stole the limelight as this four-wheel suitcase with a laser and a camera can follow its owner like a puppy.

So these are some of the futuristic trends witnessed at the CES 2017. This year the CES focused mainly on digital interactivity. This is evident from the fact that a majority of exhibitors at the show were looking to leverage the concept of interactivity for financial gain.

Compressed Air Car: The Future Is Now

The idea of introducing a compressed air car to the market is not a new one, as you might already know, but it has never been so close to becoming reality. The Motor Development International (MDI) is in fact about to launch its first model of car that uses compressed air technology. The first model, named AirPod, will cost less than £6,000 and will be available for the European market in 2013.

The first units will be sold in France and priority will obviously be given to those people who will have pre-ordered the vehicle. The manufacture and distribution of these cars will be innovative too: there won’t be any car dealer or re-seller as customers will be able to buy their cars directly from the factories. This means that, according to MDI’s plans, factories will start spreading throughout the continent, with the aim of making the entire process of manufacturing and selling far more direct and immediate. Therefore no middleman or intermediaries are involved and this will lead to a considerable cut in costs throughout the supply chain. According to MDI, it would cost much more to transport cars from one side of the world to the other, which is currently common practice among car manufacturers. By doing so, each factory will guarantee a drastic cut in costs deriving from logistics while keeping production efficient, with 7,000 units produced each year.

Back in 2007 MDI had agreed a deal with industry giant TATA Motors, with the latter prepared to invest heavily in the compressed air engine. A technology that was first introduced by the French back in 1870 but that has never managed to break through and become commercialised. This was due to the large amount of technical difficulties and safety threats of such technology, as well as the introduction of the internal combustion engine back in the day.

The cars set for launch in the European market are expected to have an autonomy of approximately 62 miles for £0.80: absolutely stunning! Also the air compressed car can be easily charged in specific petrol stations in just 2 minutes or from home by simply plugging the car to the socket, taking approximately 3 hours for a full charge.

One of the main criticisms moved against the air compressed technology is that it takes a great quantity of energy to compress the air, due to the fact that air has little energy, hence the compression level is expected to be extremely high. However, according to MDI, these new car concepts, due to their very light weight, consume less energy to move, making them cheaper than electric cars.

The next model to be launched after the AirPod will be named AirOne and will be fitted with a 15 Kw engine for a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour (against the 7 Kw and 50 mph maximum speed of the AirPod). Another model to be launched will be the AirCity, much bigger than the others, with a look much more similar to a normal car and the ability to reach a maximum speed of 80 mph with 25 Kw power.