Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A New Concept: The Retro

(........continued from previous post)

Not necessarily, because as I see it, there IS a future for the self-driving car so long as manufacturers are willing to accept some very simple modifications. And by the way, ANTOAVTYCAD is a bit unwieldy, I must admit. So I gave the matter some thought and came up with a better name: the RETRO. Not "retro" in the usual sense, as a throwback to something old and outdated. But "retro" as in "retro-fitted." Or, more specifically, a self-driving car retrofitted with controls permitting it to operate both autonomously and under the guidance of a driver. Given the advanced technology of today's autonomous vehicles, adding controls of this kind would be a relatively simple and inexpensive task.

At the bare minimum an easily accessed electronic control panel could be added, enabling drivers to steer, brake, and accelerate remotely, with no need for a steering wheel or foot pedals. Would this be the equivalent of a "level 3" vehicle, designed for the driver to take over if something went wrong? Not at all -- because the Retro would be designed to minimize the likelihood of anything going wrong.

On a highway with clearly visible lane markers, and under good weather conditions (no heavy rain, snow or sleet), such a vehicle could be permitted to take control on its own, as originally designed. Both driver and passengers could then safely relax, playing games, reading, napping, etc. These are the conditions under which such systems operate at their best, and they can be regarded as reasonably reliable. If conditions gradually deteriorated, lane markers disappeared, a police car signaled a pullover, etc. an alarm would sound and the driver would take control. After leaving the highway for the much more challenging environment of the city, autonomous control would largely cease and the driver would take over. But certain automated features would be retained, such as the ability to sense and avoid surrounding vehicles, brake suddenly if confronted with a pedestrian, and, of course, park itself automatically.

But that's just the bare minimum. A Retro could easily be enhanced with some important features making it far safer than any vehicle from the past, autonomous or conventional. For one thing, the two most dangerous elements in conventional vehicles are the steering wheel and the windshield. Autonomous vehicles do away with the steering wheel, and have no need for a windshield, though most still have one. While clear visibility is necessary for controlling any motor vehicle, there are alternatives to the windshield, and a well designed Retro would not need one. A simple alternative would be a computer display, mounted on a stand just in front of the driver. Not only could the road ahead be displayed, but also all other views, to the sides and to the rear. If the display were large enough all views could be displayed side by side at the same time. While this would take some getting used to, anyone with experience playing video games would be able to adapt very easily, I feel sure.

Actually a windshield view could be simulated from almost any current electronic device with a large enough display, including the wide variety of Android i-phones currently found everywhere. My own personal favorite would be a virtual reality headpiece, which would enable the driver to gain an almost 360 degree view of the road and the surrounding terrain simply by plugging in to the video cameras and other sensors already part of the autonomous technology. Passengers interested in the surrounding view could, of course, plug into the same sensory system with their own headsets, laptops or other portable device.

When retrofitting an already existing vehicle with a windshield, a steel plate could be mounted behind it, insulating driver and passengers from flying glass in the event of an accident. Taking this one step further, all inner surfaces, including the steel plate, could be padded, removing the necessity for potentially dangerous and unpredictable air bags.

Another safety feature could be enabled if all controls, for steering, accelerating, braking, etc., could be managed from a device similar to a typical game controller, held in the hands. The automobile would be designed to operate only while at least one hand was holding this device. If the driver fell asleep or became ill and dropped it, an alarm would sound and if the driver did not respond, the automatic features would kick in long enough for the vehicle to pull over, park itself and call for help.

When contemplating the possibilities of this "car of the future" I've often wondered how original my idea is and whether or not I've actually come up with something new. Frankly, I doubt it. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that this is an idea already being batted around in the auto industry -- though to date I've never found anything like it online. Regardless, in my opinion, the Retro, or something very much like it, represents the future of the auto industry better than the "self-driving car" as now conceived. That's my prediction, anyhow. We'll see.

Oh and one other thing: the technology required for implementing this new type of automobile is already available so, unlike the self-driving car, which even by the most optimistic estimates is years away, the "Retro" could be ready to roll off assembly lines in a few months.


  1. All very well and good, Doc. G. But what happens if I'm driving along, sans windshield, and suddenly see on my computer screen a dirt track outside of Vladivostok or the Autobahn between Frankfort and the airport? (Of course, if I'm reading or napping, I might not even notice.) Next up: an app that tells you on what highways Retros are driving at that moment, so you can take other less hazardous routes.

    1. Not sure what your point is, Denkof. If you're worried about the remote control feature being hacked, then yes, that could be a problem if the system is plugged into the Internet. However, there is no reason for that. All communications outside of GPS could, and should, be internal, i.e., between the vehicle's guidance system and the driver's computer. And if a GPS signal can be hacked then that would be a problem for conventional vehicles as well.

      As for the hazards involved, Retros would be significantly less hazardous than fully autonomous vehicles.

      Of course if you ask me personally what I'd prefer, I'll stick with my 20 year old Geo Prizm, thank you.
      I'm not trying to design my ideal car, I'm merely trying to save the automobile industry. :-)