The Dallas-Fort Worth area isn’t necessarily a hotspot for driverless car research and development.
But even though that research is more prominent in places such as Google in California and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, that doesn’t mean driverless cars don’t have ties to the Metroplex.
University of Texas at Arlington professor Manfred Huber is pretty involved in such. Huber is working with Maryland-based engineering firm Robotic Research on a $100,000 driverless car project. Their goal is to design an driverless car that can pick up wounded veterans on a military base and take them to the base’s medical facilities for doctors’ appointments. While Robotic Research is in charge of developing the car itself, Huber’s role is to develop the software that would allow veterans to set reminders and make reservations for cars to pick them up.
The project has two cars being tested at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Huber said the team expects the cars to be ready to transport human passengers by January.
“This is more or less an ideal scenario for driverless cars right now,” Huber said. “It’s in a controllable environment. It’s on base. It’s not arbitrary streets. It’s a relatively well-defined set of routes that the system will have to be able to take. Obviously it has to adjust to people crossing, other cars on crossings, but it’s still relatively controlled, so it’s not like driving out in the city.”
Arlington isn’t the only local city with ties to driverless car projects. In Mansfield, electronic parts supplier Mouser Electronics has started a campaign of sorts for driverless cars, selling parts to engineers and launching initiatives to help people get a better understanding of the topic.
Mouser’s inventory has a variety of parts that can be used for driverless car projects, according to Kevin Hess, vice president of technical marketing. Some of those products include sensors manufactured by STMicroelectronics and Honeywell Sensing and Control, which give a car awareness of its surroundings. Other products Mouser carries include power modules made by Panasonic and Silicon Labs, as well as microprocessors made by Intel and Freescale.
In October, Mouser launched the Driverless Car Series, an online video series meant to educate audiences about autonomous vehicles. The series is part of Mouser’s Empowering Innovation Together (EIT) program, which features articles, videos and other resources that cover topics such as driverless cars, robotics and space exploration. The videos are hosted by Grant Imahara, former host of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.
“This project has been very exciting for us because it involves the technology of the future,” Hess said. “Based on the feedback we’ve received, we think the EIT program has been a great success, and we feel like we’re making an impact on engineers by inspiring them to learn more and gain knowledge about the newest advancements, products and applications relating to these timely topics.”
It may be a while before autonomous vehicles make it into the consumer market, Huber said, but when driverless cars do enter the market, Dallas-Fort Worth may be an ideal place because of its highway-heavy transportation system.
“Commuter traffic is probably the best thing for a computer because you get these densely packed cars that all move at the same speed,” he said. “Densely packed cars are a problem for people because your reaction time is bad. They’re not a problem for the computer, especially if it can talk to the car in front of it. In some sense, that’s an easy traffic to handle for them.”
The main hindrance to a driverless car’s success in the market would likely be the price, as it would likely be too expensive for an individual consumer, he said.
Huber said he sees driverless cars being more prevalent in the commercial realm first.
Hess said that although much auto engineering design is still concentrated around Silicon Valley, California, he sees a future for driverless cars in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“With Toyota and GM having large footprints in Texas, it’s only a matter of time before this futuristic technology makes it to manufacturing here,” he said.
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