Even parking lots are managed with easy
The large shopping malls in Japan have very large parking lots. It can be an ordeal finding a parking spot or carrying heavy groceries to your car on holidays when there are many visitors.
Another leading car manufacturer is developing a car which will park while unmanned. When the driver steps out of the car near the store, the car will receive information from surveillance cameras in the parking lot and find a vacant space. Once the driver is finished with shopping and returns to the spot where he left the car, he can call the communication device and the car will come to pick him up.
If automatic operation becomes a reality, the hardships of parking lots may be eliminated (Photo courtesy of Honda Motor Co., Ltd.).
Improving the performance of automatic braking is also a critical issue. A system, which has already been put to practical use, automatically stops when it locates an obstacle while travelling under 30km/h. And if the speed is above 30km/h, it prompts the driver to stop by the use of a buzzer. A system with an improved image recognition system which will stop automatically when there is a possibility of a collision with a pedestrian ahead, even at a speed of 60km/h, has been developed. Cars employing this system will be launched in 2015 at the earliest. (Photo courtesy of Honda Motor Co., Ltd.)
This feature could be further developed to summon an unmanned car from your home by inputting a message into a smart phone, such as “in the parking lot in front of the station at 10pm”. If this feature is combined with a membership system of joint-use car-sharing, cars can be borrowed and returned at any time and from anywhere.
Applied to robots which travel on the sidewalk
If a time and place is set through a mobile terminal, ROPITS will come and pick you up. (Photo courtesy of Hitachi, Ltd.)
For this type of research, a variety of technologies which have not been applied to cars until now, such as sensors or computers with advanced artificial intelligence which locate obstacles on roads, or communication devices which link cars with traffic signals, will become very important. For this reason, companies such as electronics manufacturers and computer software makers are taking a great interest in it.
A major electronics manufacturer in Japan has developed a one-passenger robot, ROPITS that can be used to pick-up and drop-off elderly people. This technology can also be used to drive a car by computer.
Because all four wheels move up and down they will keep the body level even if there is a level difference. (Photo courtesy of Hitachi, Ltd.).
By specifying a destination through a mobile terminal connected to the internet, ROPITS will operate autonomously to transport you along the sidewalk at a maximum speed of 6 km/h. It can find its current location with GPS sensors using radio signals from artificial satellites and detailed map data. It can locate pedestrians or bumps in the road by using sensors which measure the distance between it and obstacles in front. In open spaces it will maintain its speed and move away from obstacles and in narrow spaces it will reduce its speed and pass through. It will stop automatically if a pedestrian approaches. Under the current Japanese law this robot cannot travel on public roads therefore repeated experiments are being carried out in specially permitted areas.
Cars are convenient vehicles but also have created problems such as traffic accidents and environmental pollution. If autonomous driving by computer becomes a reality, it will lead to a reduction in accidents caused by drivers taking their eyes off the road or dozing off, and a reduction in wasteful energy consumption due to traffic jams.