Vehicular automation uses artificial intelligence and mechatronics to aid an operator in controlling a robotic vehicle. Some of these vehicles are labeled “smart” or “intelligent,” while others that are more capable of moving on their own are known as “semi-autonomous.” Those robots that rely only on autonomous movement are simply known as “autonomous” or “robotic.” There are several types of vehicles that use automation to operate and the capabilities of these robots have increased due to the introduction of the integrated circuit.
Ground vehicles come in a variety of types and uses and include vehicles made for transportation, bomb disposing robots, and shipyard gantries. Many of these vehicles have similar features including rear-view alarms for detecting obstacles, Electronic Stability Control for controlling different systems within the vehicle if it is in danger of losing control, and vehicle tracking systems like Lojack. These features occur in vehicles that are controlled by humans, but autonomous ground vehicles have been developed and are a focus point in many research projects.
The development of autonomous cars begins with modifying modern cars, creating semi-autonomous vehicles, or by developing completely autonomous robotic cars. It is thought that semi-autonomous vehicles will be more efficient to develop, because the technology needed to create them is already being used today in vehicles like the dual mode monorail. Many groups, like BiWay in the United Kingdom and ATN in New Zealand, are developing private cars that can be used on monorail tracks. Another route that is being researched to create semi-autonomous vehicles is the development of automated highway systems. If these could be created, they would be separate highways that hold magnets that could guide vehicles along a path. The cars would also be directed by computer systems that would prevent collisions and traffic jams. The Intelligent Car Flagship Initiative, established by the European Commission, focuses on lane departure warning systems and autonomous cruise control systems, among other things. Other areas of research regarding automation in cars include driver monitoring systems, adaptive headlamps, and automatic parking.
Automation has also been used and considered in other types of vehicles, like the autopilot systems in aircraft and systems that could be used in underwater vehicles that may help in underwater mapping and pipeline construction. However, there are many factors that limit the use of automation in vehicles including the amount of money and power it could cost to operate certain vehicles.
Image Caption: This view of the Mars-like landscape close to ESO’s Paranal Observatory shows one of ESA’s Seeker prototype Mars rover vehicles during tests. Seeker used its stereo vision to map its surroundings, assess how far it had moved and plan its route, taking care to avoid obstacles. Credit: ESA/RAL Space/ESO/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)