Thursday, May 16, 2013

Towards the driverless, near-crashless car..

I've noticed an increasing amount of press over the last couple of years regarding progress being made in the area of driverless cars, and even now we see a variety of “driver assistance” technologies are appearing on new cars (emergency braking and others). 

To provide some background & context:
A number of firms, including Google, are busy trying to take driver assistance to its logical conclusion by creating cars that drive themselves to a chosen destination without a human at the controls.

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, predicts that driverless cars will be ready for sale to customers within five years. That may be optimistic, but the prototypes that Google already uses to ferry its staff along Californian freeways are impressive. Google is seeking to offer the world a driverless car built from scratch, but it is more likely to evolve, and be accepted by drivers, in stages.

As sensors and assisted-driving software demonstrate their ability to cut accidents, regulators will move to make them compulsory for all new cars. Insurers are already pressing motorists to accept black boxes that measure how carefully they drive: these will provide a mass of data which is likely to show that putting the car on autopilot is often safer than driving it. Computers never drive drunk or while texting.


Tamiya Hornet RC Buggy circa 1985. Slogan "Anytime Baby!" takes on new meaning in a modern day context..


If and when cars go completely driverless—for those who want this—the benefits will be enormous. Google gave a taste by putting a blind man in a prototype and filming him being driven off to buy takeaway tacos. Huge numbers of elderly and disabled people could regain their personal mobility. The young will not have to pay crippling motor
insurance, because their reckless hands and feet will no longer touch the wheel or the accelerator. The colossal toll of deaths and injuries from road accidents—1.2m killed a year worldwide, and 2m hospital visits a year in America alone—should tumble down, along with the costs to health systems and insurers.

Driverless cars should also ease congestion and save fuel. Computers brake faster than humans. And they can sense when cars ahead of them are braking. So driverless cars will be able to drive much closer to each other than humans safely can. On motorways they could form fuel-efficient “road trains”, gliding along in the slipstream of the vehicle in front. People who commute by car will gain hours each day to work, rest or read a newspaper. ref: www.economist.com

So in addition to all of the benefits as noted in the article:- almost certainly such automation will enhance the safety of the on-road cycling experience. It is not inconceivable that on-board sensors (thermal, camera, infra-red, etc.) would be able to detect cyclists (and pedestrians, and cats and dogs, and wildlife, and..) in a far more reliable fashion than most contemporary, wholly human-operated vehicles. When assessing this technology from the perspective of safety related matters - it does look like a win for cyclists in this brave new world..

But actually I think there's more to it than just safety. For example, yesterday I got destroyed by the weather while out training. The bitter, cold, wet wind lashed at, burned and burrowed at my defences, eventually working it's way right to the very core. This got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that I'm looking forward to the day when I can just throw caution to the wind:

There's a storm on the horizon and it's going to hit in a couple of hours. I need to get in that 2hr training ride, but I don't want to be caught in a thunder storm..

No matter - if the heavens open before I make it back, & it's just flat-out too gnarly to keep on training - I'll duck into the nearest cafe, order a coffee and txt my car to come and pick me up.. Inside the car I keep a bag with towel and some dry clothes for just this sort of occasion - so on the way home I dial-up the tint on the windows, crank the heater up and get changed. Next to the clothes bag are some spares and tools also - indeed - the car is on standby for mechanical incidents too..

If I allow myself to get carried away with this - I can see personal unmanned support vehicles during road races, epic training rides, or even following road trips by bike..

I think five years is an over optimistic prediction - but I think 5-10 is on the money.. So right now I'm daydreaming, but only 5-10 years away these sorts of scenarios won't just be possible, they may be normal, day to day occurrences. Incredible..

Oh, and yes of course - purists need not apply - I agree there is definitely a character building aspect to to the suffering that can be imposed by the elements.. and mechanical self sufficiency is to be admired also..
Indeed, resist if you will, but your 1:1 scale modern day incarnation of the RC buggy will be waiting in the driveway to come and save you from that irreconcilable jam.. Anytime Baby!


Friday, May 10, 2013

Graeme Obree: A Book and a Video

An inspirational individual with a genuinely creative and inventive predisposition that has, and it seems will continue to push him out to - and beyond the very perimeter of what is is considered to be within the realms of the "possible"..



In the video Obree talks about breaking the human powered land speed record, building the bike, remaining inspired, and sustaining a passion. I guess this has done the rounds, but if you haven't seen it - definitely take a look. And, if you have seen it already - definitely take a look...

I recently read Obree's book "The OBREE Way - The training manual for cyclists".

It was a worthwhile read, however quite different to the style of training literature that I normally consume. To somewhat mirror another reviewer's point of view:
This is not a manual as such. It is how one man did what he did in his own, unique style. The book reflects the man in that it is presented with little embellishment. No charts, tables, training exercises, watts, FTP analysis, heart rate zones here. Persist though and there are some real gems.

In the author's words:

"Please trust me that this body of honest work is given in the best of spirit, I have been the guinea-pig in the quest to refine my training on every level and I can commend it really does work. Knowledge and understanding is a constant quest. This book is not definitive and keeping an open mind on new findings and developments is not only a good thing but essential if you are serious in your search for new and better ways to improve your cycling and athletic performance." Graeme Obree.