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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

‘Smart cars’ that are actually, well, smart

MIT News
June 14, 2011

Since 2000, there have been 110 million car accidents in the United States, more than 443,000 of which have been fatal — an average of 110 fatalities per day. These statistics make traffic accidents one of the leading causes of death in this country, as well as worldwide.

Engineers have developed myriad safety systems aimed at preventing collisions: automated cruise control, a radar- or laser-based sensor system that slows a car when approaching another vehicle; blind-spot warning systems, which use lights or beeps to alert the driver to the presence of a vehicle he or she can’t see; and traction control and stability assist, which automatically apply the brakes if they detect skidding or a loss of steering control.

Still, more progress must be made to achieve the long-term goal of “intelligent transportation”: cars that can “see” and communicate with other vehicles on the road, making them able to prevent crashes virtually 100 percent of the time.

Of course, any intelligent transportation system (ITS), even one that becomes a mainstream addition to new cars, will have to contend with human-operated vehicles as long as older cars remain on the road — that is, for the foreseeable future. To this end, MIT mechanical engineers are working on a new ITS algorithm that takes into account models of human driving behavior to warn drivers of potential collisions, and ultimately takes control of the vehicle to prevent a crash.


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