Design & Technology of Autonomous Vehicles of the Future – Driverless Cars (Part 5/6)
Future design is a tricky subject. Which products will be invented? How will they look? These topics are nearly overwhelming to tackle with the imagination, even for me, a habitual forward-thinker.
Let’s try anyway. My goal here is not to be correct in our predictions about autonomous vehicles. Let’s just imagine and see where that takes us.
As a starting point, we can look at current-day progressions. By that I mean current technological and aesthetic movements which we’re already a part of. From these we can infer what the future holds.
Aesthetics of Autonomous Cars of the Future: Slick & Sleek
Computers used to look awful, didn’t they? Clunky. Puke beige.
TVs, cellphones, and many other electronics used to look ugly as well.
But today they all look pretty.
As cars evolve from the glorified go-karts they are today to actual mobile offices and mobile houses, we will see them grow slicker and sleeker like our other household electronics and appliances.
Technology of Autonomous Cars of the Future: Fast & Safe!
Autonomous car fast like arrow. Safe like padded room.
Mag Lev = Fast
Wikipedia explains Maglev well:
Maglev (derived from magnetic levitation) is a system of transportation that uses magnetic levitation to suspend, guide and propel vehicles with magnets rather than using mechanical methods, such as wheels, axles and bearings.
In other words, trains floating on magnets. This isn’t theoretical; maglev trains have been in use since 1984. Advocates of maglev technology say it provides faster speeds with lower maintenance (less wear and tear from friction) than current wheel & axle technology.
Who’s to say we won’t use maglev on our autonomous cars?
Another way to think of autonomous cars is as “personal trains.”
In the future we may have ultra highways, toll-roads for the wealthy. Your autonomous car will take you to a waiting station, where you’ll sit in line for 15 minutes. Then your maglev car will enter a vaccuumed chamber, and you’ll be whisked away like superman after a quad shot latte.
Sound like science fiction? Companies are already developing “vactrain” technologies—which, in theory, could send vehicles rocketing along at 4000-5000mph.
Long, Cylindrical Shape = Fast
I envision a long cylindrical shape like the concept art at the top of this article, perhaps with half-spherical ends so either end can be the “front.” Or maybe one end will taper to a point, making the car a sort of elongated teardrop shape. It will have a high slenderness ratio for less pressure drag (the drag of wind pushing against the front, which is the drag that really slows you down) and more shear force drag (the frictional drag along the sides, the drag that doesn’t slow you down much).
Simply put, it will be long and thin so the wind doesn’t slow it down much.
I’m not done with the topic of “fast” yet. Check this out:
Note: the above graph represents a curious series of coincidences. They are compelling, but we cannot totally rely on them. The future is always uncertain. It’s possible we’ll see huge spikes in land speed records the next 10-20 years; maybe we just haven’t reached those tipping points yet.
Powerhouse Computer Brains = Really Safe
By the time autonomous vehicles become the norm, computers will be so advanced they’ll make today’s supercomputers look like solar-powered calculators.
Most of this computing power will be dedicated to protecting the car’s precious cargo—you.
Safety will evolve, by necessity.
A raising of safety standards will be necessary. Auto crashes must become extremely rare. Why? Because inside your autonomous car you’ll be walking around, without a seatbelt, surrounded by dirty knives, forks and other sharp objects, and breakable items perched precariously on shelves. And you’ll be going 300mph. Damage can’t be mitigated much if you crash in this situation.
Auto crashes will have to be rarer than plane crashes are today—so rare that when an auto crash happens, it will make international news.
Today’s safety strategy = make damage from accidents less severe.
Future safety strategy = prevent auto accidents from happening in the first place.
A combination of GPS and technology within all roads will constantly feed information to the oncoming autonomous vehicle about what it can expect: sharp turns, felled trees, stray dogs… spontaneous wormholes… anything that could cause an accident. Risk-averting Artificial Intelligence will quickly determine the best course of action to take in facing any threat.
Deceleration and acceleration will be very gradual, but we’ll still have numerous other technologies preventing drops and falls from within. For example:
- The insides of the car may tilt slightly away from any force causing acceleration, to assist in cementing your precious breakable antiques in place.
- All hard, upward-facing interior surfaces of the car may be pressure-sensitive and intelligently flexible, automatically creating a suction effect on objects placed on them.
- Dishes will be created with unbreakable materials, perhaps plastics that look and feel like ceramic.
- Through it all, an AI will be regularly communicating with its passenger(s). “John, there’s a herd of deer crossing the road half a mile ahead. Prepare for deceleration.”
The next—and last—post muses on the social implications of driverless cars. It will tackle traffic, being late, drunk driving, and include some morbid tongue-in-cheekiness on how driverless cars may make small dogs obese.
Start from the beginning →
Driverless Cars (Part 1/6): Google’s Cars Will Change Everything
Sidenote from the author:
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