Related News

Home » Feature

Smart cars that drive themselves

IMAGINE in 20 years, your puppy is in the driver's seat of your electric compact car cruising at 80 kilometers per hour while you are sipping a cappuccino or video-chatting.

Smart cars, already common in James Bond or Batman superhero movies, are now moving into the reality lane. About the dog: he or she is not actually driving, but neither are you - the car and WiFi do it all.

At the World Expo in Shanghai, the latest in transport and cars of the future are previewed in various pavilions.

At joint pavilion of General Motors and its Chinese partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp, visitors can take a 4D ride into the future, feeling their chairs zip along, maneuver and park, with or without someone (or a dog) at the wheel.

There are expected to be more small cars with bold, personalized designs. These "personal transport tools" (not mere cars) could be so smart that they can help blind people, or guide dogs get around in traffic and reach their destinations.

One of the notable transport "tools" is GM's concept car EN-V exhibited in the pavilion. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, the two-wheel vacuum cleaner-shaped model is equipped with GPS (global positioning systems), vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies. These help the light, smart and more energy efficient "tool" navigate," according to Kevin Wale, GM China's president and CEO.

Wale expect the car on display to be available to the public by around 2030. Back at the New York Expo in 1939, GM introduced the idea of people driving on highways at 160 kilometers per hour. And that came true. So maybe this will too.

The core concept is connecting automobiles to each other and to the transport infrastructure, or the so-called "Mobility Internet." Connected cars will have technology enabling them to collect, process and share enormous amounts of data by linking them to each other and to an urban network, much as the Internet links computers today.

By analyzing information, the intelligent system would be able to select the best route based on real-time traffic information. The vehicle-to-vehicle system will "warn" drivers if two cars are too close, or if there's an obstacle, and the cars will do the rest.

"Connected vehicles will be able to sense what is around them, and communicate with other vehicles and the road system," said John Du, director of GM's China Science Lab. "This will optimize traffic while shortening travel times and make travel more predictable."

Parking becomes a breeze. Drivers who shy from tight spaces and hate parallel parking can let their car do it automatically, with the aid of cameras and sensors.

The system can tell drivers where to get the nearest battery charge for their electric car; they can also receive electronic discount coupons from nearby restaurants and supermarkets, if they agree in advance to accept promotions.

WiFi and the Internet already do amazing things and industry analysts say many of these transport technologies will become reality in one or two decades - some in a few years.

These advances result from developments in auto electronics and the so-called Internet of Things that integrates technologies on complex control, sensors, satellite guidance systems and high-speed wireless networks.

GM already has its auto-communications OnStar system, which is integrated into most of its high-end models. Through the GPS and wireless communication technologies, OnStar offers 14 features, including automatic crash response, emergency services, security protection, navigation system, vehicle diagnostics and hands-free calling.

The company has sold more than 29,000 OnStar-equipped autos in China since OnStar's launch in December 2009. GM expects to have around 200,000 users in China by the end of this year.

The basic components for the next generation transport systems and intelligent public transit are already on the horizon, said Yang Xiaoguang, director of transport engineering and the ITS research center at Shanghai's Tongji University.

Technology already exists. Commercialization, or higher cost, is one of the main challenges ahead, he added.

Clean power

Meanwhile, cars shown at the GM-SAIC pavilion also give some hits about how we will power our cars in the future.

Besides GM's EN-V, the YeZ by SAIC can absorb CO2 and water molecules in the air and, like an actual leaf, convert them into power through a series of chemical reactions.

It could operate on both sunny and overcast days and also leverage wind power. This would enable mobility with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology behind Yez is just one avenue being explored by auto makers for green driving at a time of worsening pollution and energy shortage.

Other technologies include fuel cell electric cars, which generate electricity by burning hydrogen and ethanols, the solar-energy vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles, and cars driven by various fuels including compressed natural gas, liquid gas, ethanols and bio-fuels such as corn.

Although the mass market of electric car still needs the support of an infrastructure for charging batteries, electric cars are still believed to have the biggest potential to become mainstream, considering its technology and economic benefits.

Many industrial analysts including Minister of Science Wan Gang say auto power systems are in a transitional period from internal combustion engines to pure electric motors and fuel cells.

Public transport

In the public transport sector, wireless transport management systems are used in the Expo.

Around 250 electric cars for VIPs feature China Mobile's in-car communications systems. Based on the system, Expo operators can manage the vehicle routes efficiently.

The more complicated city-level transport systems, including includes metro, buses, taxis and private cars, are being tested in Chongqing Municipality and Chengdu City in Sichuan Province, as well as other cities.

These systems can be found overseas, in the US state of Colorado and in New Songdo, a city being built from scratch in South Korea, according to US-based IT and telecommunications giants Cisco and IBM.

In its pavilion, Cisco displayed its blueprint for a new-technology bus. It provides Wifi to passengers who can access broadband wireless Internet through phone and laptop. Sensors on the bus door calculate passenger numbers and temperature and humidity sensors can adjust the air-conditioning.

The auto electronic industry is forecast to grow 24 percent to 260 billion yuan (US$38.2 billion) this year and to touch 300 billion yuan in 2015, said Shao Zhiqing, vice director of the Shanghai Municipal Economy and Information Technology Development Commission.

New-energy vehicles require complicated internal controls, security, communications, sensors and guidance systems - a huge potential market for electronics and semiconductor firms, Shao said.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend