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Self-drive cars

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 24 June 2015

An up and coming hot topic is the emergence of the reality of self-drive cars. The general reaction is to respond that they will and could not ever work as a norm. But we have seen many crazy ideas that were originally conceived in science fiction or futuristic insights that have become a reality. Take the wrist watch worn by James Bond or the communication between the car Kit in the Knightrider series. 

Some exuberant investment advisors are predicting that the technology behind self-drive cars will be the next big one in the order of the smart phone or even the internet. In their space they are trying to attract investors at the early incubation stage to invest before the technology matures. It will depend on very sophisticated processors interacting with sensors and then with the mechanical and electrical 
functions of the vehicle so the role of the engineer will remain crucial in this development. I particular it would seem that Mechatronics Engineering will have a massive future added to by the growing dependence on robotics and mechanized replacement of manual labour.

Fast forwarding to the future when the self-drive car becomes the norm does raise some interesting 
questions and issues. What does the driver actually do? I guess one sets the destination data up via the GPS and hits the start button and that’s it. Sit back and take it easy or would one distrust the system and sit back in a state of anxious stress that the car will not avoid another person-driven vehicle behaving like a normal Cape Town driver does when in a state of road rage or plain impatience. 

It would seem that the best situation would be when all cars are self-drive and no people are involved in the process. What then are the risks? What if the power system (battery) fails?  A low level warning should bring the car to a gentle stop in a safe parking area identified on the route map.  Some form of protection against manual override by a frustrated driver must be implemented who would otherwise create the necessary but irritating avoiding action by the smart self-drive cars nearby.

Let’s however consider all the advantages. On the assumption that going physically to the office is still a requirement i.e. virtual offices have not eliminated this need, then imagine settling into the car with 
one’s digital equipment (very smart phones and tablets) and working on some productive activity instead of getting impatient with the traffic or cursing the traffic cop that saw you using the phone at the wheel. And if the cop does stop the car or the camera records an over-speed, then should the ticket be made out to the processor for an error in judgment for not observing the speed sign via visual sign reading? Most likely there will not be any traffic cops as everything will be via electronic communication cameras and digital records. A fine notice comes up on your vehicle screen.

The real benefit will be for the pubs, nightclubs, house, parties etc where one will not have to worry about a sober driver or being caught by the breathalyzer. Simply jump in, grab one for the road and off you go safely into your garage where the gate and door all open in advance of your arrival through intelligent programming sent out by the car as it arrived. Booze industry, watch this space. Maybe another good investment would be shares in SAB. 

And of course all these smart self-drive cars will be electric powered with advanced battery technology 
where the batteries can double up as home energy storage on a swop out basis. And all charged by one’s own solar system, but still connected to the main grid in order to both draw from the system or feed back into it. I actually fancy this era. All made by Engineers.

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