Steve Shladover outlines the benefits to be gained from vehicles that could drive themselves and discusses how this could be achieved.
1 Even when cars were still young, futurists began thinking about vehicles that could drive themselves, without human help. Perhaps the best known of these conjectures was the General Motors Futurama, the hit of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Now, at the start of the new century, it's worth taking a fresh look at this concept and asking how automation might change transportation and the quality of our lives.
2 Consider some of the implications of cars that could drive themselves.
● We might eliminate the more than ninety percent of traffic crashes that are caused by human errors such as misjudgments and inattention.
● We might reduce antisocial driving behavior such as road rage, thereby significantly reducing the stress of driving.
● The entire population, including the young, the old, and the infirm, might enjoy a higher level of mobility without requiring advanced driving skills.
● The luxury of being chauffeured to your destination might be enjoyed by all, not just the wealthiest individuals.
● Fuel consumption and pollution might be reduced by smoothing traffic flow and running vehicles close enough to each other to benefit from aerodynamic drafting.
● Traffic-management decisions might be based on firm knowledge of vehicle responses to instructions, rather than on guesses about the choices that drivers might make.
● The capacity of a freeway lane might be doubled or tripled, making it possible to accommodate growing demands for travel without major new construction, or, equivalently, today's level of congestion might be reduced, enabling travelers to save time.
Is it feasible?
3 This is now a realistic prospect. With advances in technology we can readily visualize your trip on an automated highway system.
4 Imagine leaving work at the end of the day and needing to drive only as far as the nearest on-ramp to the local automated highway. At the on-ramp, you press a button on your dashboard to select the off-ramp closest to your home and then relax as your car's electronic systems, in cooperation with roadside electronics and similar systems on other cars, guide your car smoothly, safely, and effortlessly toward your destination. En route you save time by maintaining full speed even at rush-hour traffic volumes. At the end of the off-ramp you resume normal control and drive the remaining distance to your home, better rested and less stressed than if you had driven the entire way.
5 Although many different technical developments are necessary to turn this image into reality, none requires exotic technologies, and all can be based on systems and components that are already being actively developed in the international motor vehicle industry. These could be viewed as replacements for the diverse functions that drivers perform every day: observing the road, observing the preceding vehicles, steering, accelerating, braking, and deciding when and where to change course. 要把这一景象变成现实固然需要各种不同的技术发展，但也无需什么匪夷所思的技术，所有的技术都能以国际车辆制造业正在积极开发研制的各种系统和部件作为基础。这些技术可以被看作是车辆驾驶者日常开车所起各种作用的替代：观察路况，留意前行车辆，掌握方向，加速，刹车，变道。
Observing the road
6 Researchers have developed a road-reference and sensing system that makes it possible to determine accurately a vehicle's position and orientation relative to the lane's center. Cheap permanent magnets are buried at four-foot intervals along the lane centerline and detected by magnetometers mounted under the vehicle's bumpers. . These meters provide the information used by the vehicle's control computer to determine its exact position of the vehicle.