Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Distorted Realities Opinion
Climb aboard Horse 7.0: You can’t escape the smart car of the future


Dick MorleyRecently, I purchased a big-screen plasma TV for our bedroom (no comments please). It is designed to be unprogrammable. The manual is 60 pages of flow charts. We wanted to throw the TV out the window and get another brand, but each of the brands use the same software – we were doomed. But finally, after an hour or so, we were able to enjoy the shows.

My Mac computer is similar to that TV. The latest download is 10.5.1. Must we have updates each month? Can I really write this column better or faster with the new, more complex typing aids? And what will the future hold? Gotta do the updates, no matter what. It’s like the story about the scorpion and fox. The story bears re-telling.

A fox and a scorpion are on the west side of a small river. Both wish to go to the east side. The fox can swim, but it is a long swim. The scorpion can’t cross without drowning. So the scorpion says, "May I ride on your back across this stream?"

The fox replies, "Are you nuts? You will sting me and kill me."

"That makes no sense," sneers the scorpion. "If I sting you, we both die."

"True," replies Mr. Fox. So the scorpion mounts the fox and starts the journey. Midway, the scorpion stings the fox. The fox asks with his dying breath, "Why did you sting me knowing we both will die?"

Quoth the scorpion: "Because I am a scorpion."

We all do things because we cannot control our own destiny. This applies to life mates, computers and cars. (I won’t even go into the problems with air travel.) Let’s just talk about horses and cars. Horses use fuel at a constant rate per day. Cars use fuel only when ridden. Horses can carry one passenger at a few kilometres per hour, while cars can travel with several passengers at 100 kilometres per hour. Cars are the latest update of the horse. The horse is version 1.0 and the car is version "Horse 6.0."

Several years ago, I wrote a column for Wired magazine titled "Beast on Wheels." The subject was Horse 7.0 – the car of the near future. Most of the predictions I made then are now becoming available or, at least, are offered by the manufacturers. I thought it was worth a look at some of those features I outlined to see how close we are to the smart car of the future.

Brakes
The simple ABS brakes have evolved into stability control. We can expect that the car of the future will attempt to avoid collision as well.

 
Suspension
The living car will govern all aspects of road compliance, from inflation of the tires to the coordinated adaptive ride control.
 
Black box
This item, now in some Horse 6.0 versions, is the data repository of driving and performance history. The data will be used by the design team and for collision analysis, law enforcement and service requirements.
 
Communications
All cars will communicate by satellite. The roof will contain a phased array antenna. Designers will be able to upgrade systems with real time data. Local talk with the road and nearby vehicles should improve traffic flow and the environment.
 
Steering
Like the Boeing Dreamliner, steering will be a management system. The onboard system will actually steer the car electro-mechanically. Steering dynamics will adjust to the driver and the road conditions. In effect, we will be riding in a game box.
 
Navigation
This has already happened – and in only a couple of years. Wow!
 
Lights
We have multiple lighting colors in Horse 5.0, and even more in Horse 6.0. In version 7.0, we can expect to have visual indications of neighboring car activity. Now we signal braking and turning. Potential road hazards and blowouts will be signaled. New headlights will use computer projection nano mirror technology to reduce oncoming glare.
 
Engine
All aspects of the self-adaptive engines in Horse 7.0 are computer controlled. Valves will not be mechanically connected to the crankcase. Water pumps will be electrically driven as the radiator fan is now driven. The engine will mediate the demands of performance and efficiency. Belts and hydraulics are concepts relegated to the last century.
 
Transmission and drive trains
Smooth and adaptable – it’s already being offered. Even now, they are much better than any manual transmission.
 
Sensors
Sensors will be placed throughout Horse 7.0. Some of the future sensors will be vision, radar, statistics, obstacles and other cars. This flood of sensing capability allows our future car to be managed, not driven. It should take good care of us.
 
 
 
I could list many more projections for Horse 7.0. To my surprise, some of the projections I made a few years ago are already well established today.

And, as we know, none of the far future will be believed, but we can always explore the possibilities. Will future upgrades include self repair? Adaptive response to unusual events (complex adaptive systems)? Automatic evolution and design of components? The factory is a hive, and the car is an ant? Maybe a hornet, and using the third dimension?

My work is done. You will upgrade to all versions of Horse 7.0. Even if you drown.


Dick Morley is the inventor of the PLC, an author, speaker, automation industry maverick and a self-proclaimed ubergeek. E-mail him at morely@barn.org.