Auto Manifesto

March 2, 2008

Acceleration Assist

As we work toward developing the driverless car, a number of advancements have to be made. Such a car would have the ability to accelerate, brake, and steer on its own. With the electrification of those systems, controlling them is not difficult. It’s the decision making process behind controlling those systems that represents an immense challenge. The complete removal of people from the driving process will have to take place in stages.

Here’s one area where automation may become adopted first. Cars with traction control have been available for years. Some models now have launch assist, designed to minimize wheelspin and maximize traction for blazing quick acceleration.

Could these systems not be used then to minimize energy use during acceleration, and maximize smoothness in heavy traffic areas? With the use of DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication, see Wikipedia stub here) at busy intersections, we could start to see cars networking with one another to platoon and ease congestion. If a vehicle’s intended destination is already entered in its navigation system, as it approaches a busy intersection, the network will have a good idea of where it’s headed.

Imagine you come to a stop at a red light. You set a button in your car for acceleration assist. As the light turns green, all the cars waiting for it start to move forward in synch, including yours. No delays from the accordion effect of each car waiting for the one in front to start moving before it starts moving. Each car equipped with acceleration assist would have radar or sonar to maintain a safe distance and speed from the vehicle in front, especially if the vehicle in front is not equipped with acceleration assist.

The end result is there would be less stop-and-go and traffic would flow more smoothly. The network at the intersection knows the number of vehicles there, where they’re headed, and can adjust its timing accordingly to maximize throughput. And drivers could lay off the throttle, only steering (and braking should the need arise). Think of it as cruise control for accelerating. Something like this scenario is likely to play out as we gradually shift to driverless cars.

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