All Car Central Magazine

Self Drive Cars
By Geoff Wheatley

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Volkswagen Passat wagon,2006 Position and Orientation System for Land Vehicles. Stanford Racing Team, 2007
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Self Drive Cars. Some Thoughts. by Geoff Wheatley

The fact that nothing is really new can be reviewed in an excellent article, written by Evan Ackerman entitled. ”Self Driving Cars Were Just Around the Corner”. It seems that as early as 1960 RCA engineers expressed the view that by 1975 we would be driving on electronic highways that took control of the vehicle once the system had been activated, by a simple switch on the dashboard.

In the mid 1950’s the Radio Corporation of America indicated that they had all the requirements for a Self Driving Car and presented an informative article in the RCA magazine of January 1958 indicating this. To back up this claim RCA in cooperation with the State of Nebraska built a 400 foot strip of highway featuring the control cable that directed and maintained the required driving techniques. OK I would agree that 400 feet is not much of a test track and of course my view was also questioned by the Motoring Publications of the day.

Two and a half years later a full size test track was built in Princeton N.J. where selected cars drove themselves around the track utilizing sensors in the front section of the car that detected the signals from a cable imbedded in the track. When such things as obstructions on the track or other vehicles. Etc were detected, the car would automatically slow down, or apply its brakes and/or change lanes when required.

The system was created by the RCA engineer Vladimir Zworykin who was also known as a pioneer in the development of the then new national television network. Asked why he was working on this Self Driving Program in a TV interview, he explained that such a system would soon be required with more and more cars being driven on American Highways, resulting in more accidents, It is also interesting to note that as early as the 1920's work was being undertaken to create a safety process on all vehicles and reduce accidents.

As we now know this in company with other developments to control vehicles on the city streets and national highways, still has to be developed. The idea of such control through a buried cable system is has its merits but also its problems. In winter conditions the signals may be reduced or even blocked out by frozen snow etc. In the summer variations in the heated surface can effect and direction signals. Furthermore required service on the system can be both expensive and require a high level of technical skill.

Any hope for the future for self drive cars has to come from the technology built into the vehicle and despite what we may wish to believe this technology is still in its early life cycle. Yes we can now have a vehicle park itself but that’s a long way from a 500 mile journey or driving in the center of a busy modern city. Furthermore it is doubtful if many drivers or passengers would be happy to sit in their car while the vehicle drove its self.

It may sound attractive but close your eyes and think about such a trip especially if you have family members with you who will express concern every time the car overtakes or slows down. Of course the same can apply to any other passenger in your automatic drive vehicle. If you really want a self drive means of transport my suggestion is take a taxi or the local bus, it could be safer!
Geoff Wheatley © 2016 Contact Geoff Wheatley


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