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Microsoft Hardware Technology

Cars that Can't Crash? 921

Posted by Zonk
from the first-engineer-humans-that-can-drive dept.
johnsee writes "Microsoft is working with Ford Motor Co towards car that can't crash. The future of cars according to Gates will involve high-definition screens, speech recognition technology, cameras, digital calendars and navigation equipment with directions and road conditions." From the article: "Also on Friday, Microsoft unveiled its Performance Peak Initiative -- a line of computer systems to help the auto industry better coordinate supply chains, streamline design, production and sales and fill vehicles with computer gadgets."
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Cars that Can't Crash?

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  • Seen all the jokes (Score:1, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @02:30PM (#12422826) Homepage Journal
    What about if MS actually pulls this off?

    Having a standard OS running on standard hardware without any of the bloat of current Windows would be a good thing.

    This ties in with his "it just works" thingy spouted a few days ago, and the linux pow wow they are planning.

    MS aren't stupid and as much as we rip the piss, their OS has managed to pretty much dominate the OS market for over 10 years.

    It might not be pretty, and it might not be perfect, but it gets there.

    Having asid all that, wheres the list of cars, so I can avoid them ;)
  • Um...can't...crash? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GweeDo (127172) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @02:32PM (#12422840) Homepage
    This coming from the company that even makes fun of all its BSOD's in their games!

    Enjoy the BSOD of Halo 2 [flickr.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @02:42PM (#12423032)
    I can just picture one of these cars disobeying a traffic officer instructing the car to cross over into the oncoming traffic lane.
  • Everyone stop (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @02:45PM (#12423083)

    Yes the story invites the inevtiable, insipid jokes about Microsoft and unstable software. Some are even clever. Some might even be funny.

    It is worth pointing out the scale of this proejct for those who can't (or won't) accept it: cars are simpler than general purpose computers. Yes, cars are complicated machines with lots of interworking parts. However, the hardware installation on a car is fixed (within paramters) whereas today's general purpose PCs are not.

    The flexibility of modern computer peripherals makes for seemingly endless combinations of hardware and existing software. Microsoft attempts to support quite a few of those combinations, with the mixed results we see today.

    But cars are a different beast. I bet it's possible to get good test coverage of this car software through test driving. The scope is that much smaller. Think of your favorite console game; has it crashed recently? Ever? It is possible to create software that passes some reliability metric with a fixed hardware platform. A general purpose OS would be hard pressed to make that guarantee.

    Microsoft could get this right technically speaking. It remains to be if they do.

    Oh, and is it a good idea? I wouldn't buy one :)

  • by Alwin Henseler (640539) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @03:03PM (#12423414) Homepage
    Yes! The safest car is one that does not move ...

    My thoughts exactly. As soon as you move things, there's a chance something will go wrong. Shit happens.

    But... You do realize that the (human) driver is one of the failure points? Frankly I'd be happy to get into a car and have the driving done for me. So I could enjoy the landscape, read a book, or have fun with other passengers. Or be able to drive drunk, without risking the lives of other people.

    When or how? When the technology has shown to be safer than driving the car yourself. Which won't be anytime soon, especially not when MSFT is involved.

    It's like robots doing medical procedures. It will be commonplace one day, and I'll be okay with that. But the technology has to prove itself first. Real-world use over several years would be a bare minimum for me. And no, I'm not volunteering for beta-testing.

  • by plover (150551) * on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @03:12PM (#12423532) Homepage Journal
    Hey, I had to reboot my 2002 Ford pickup truck last month. Seriously.

    Just a few weeks ago my wife and I were leaving a restaurant's parking lot after dinner and the engine was running really rough. I mean really, really rough, and this truck has always run fine before. It coughed and it gasped, and the power was just not there. I stopped and started the engine, but it still continued to run rough. I got maybe a half mile down the road when I realized I wasn't even going to make it home.

    I pulled to the shoulder, and was going to phone my son to come pick us up when I said "hey, what happens if I reboot this thing?" So I turned off the engine, let it sit totally dark for about five seconds, then started it up. It started right up and took off, no problems, no choking, no gasping.

    A cold reboot fixed my truck.

    And now Microsoft wants them to run WINDOWS on this thing? Words fail me.

  • Re:Everyone stop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @03:36PM (#12423912) Homepage Journal
    It is worth pointing out the scale of this proejct for those who can't (or won't) accept it: cars are simpler than general purpose computers.

    I fail to see how a car with a computer built into it, is simpler than a computer.

    It is possible to create software that passes some reliability metric with a fixed hardware platform. A general purpose OS would be hard pressed to make that guarantee.

    Um, you do realize that to run software, you need an OS?
  • by FreakyControl (751781) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:01PM (#12424215)
    The thing is that the amount of devices and money put into this would make the vehicle well out of range for the average customer.

    That's the main reason why automated vehicles/highway's aren't all ready in use. I work in the field of vehicle automation, and many of the major hurdles regarding the functionality have been crossed. One good website to go to is here [berkeley.edu].

    To give you an idea, a fully instrumented vehicle capable of doing autonomous driving costs about $100,000. Similar to one of those new-fangled fuel cell cars. This doesn't include the cost of infrastructure, as you can't exactly equip all civilian vehicles with military grade GPS. The California PATH program actually uses cow magnets embedded in the highway (VERY expensive to do).

    By the way, the main reason for automating highways is so that you can fit A LOT more cars on the road, and optimise the vehicle positions based on who is getting on and off where, and you can avoid traffic hold-ups from things like somebody tapping their brakes a mile up the road (called the "Slinky effect"). They found that the overwhelming majority of people would rather have the ability to own a car and use it whenever they want to on an automated highway rather than develop a really good public transportation system.

    As for accident avoidance, many of the automated highway people (such as myself) are working on accident avoidance, since that is cruicial to automated highways being able to function. I'm not really sure how MS factors into my research, but I don't think that it will be good. Besides, their software will require a great deal of additional hardware, such as steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire, etc. (all ready well under development and will be in stores by around 2010). But I digress...
  • Re:Everyone stop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shotgun (30919) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:26PM (#12424543)
    Yes, but the environment the car operates in is much more complicated than the environment the computer has to operate in. There is some predictability to a new video card. But how do you program "Deer on the side of road possibly about to spring into your lane" . Now try "child", "stumbling drunk teenager", "armadillo", "dump truck", "boulder on side of hill", "dumb as sport car driver in the next lane"....

    Limit the scope to all the problems that could go wrong in the car itself, and it is more than most computers can handle. I was having problems with my engine shutting off when I came to a stop. I fixed it by replacing the ABS speed sensor in the rearend differential. The OBS was getting a signal, just a bad one. Screw up the input with a little lack of maintenance, and the computer won't know what to make of it.

    A OS' environment is extremely simple when compared to the real world.
  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:47PM (#12424796) Homepage Journal
    Here's a fun experiment for #8.

    Look over your shoulder for as long as it takes you to determine it's safe to make a lane change. Count how long that was. 1 second ? .5s ? 2 seconds ?

    Remember that value.

    Now, driving along in traffic with a speed and following distance you'd normally have, close your eyes for that amount of time.

    Can you? Does it feel safe? Why not?

    If you need to look over your shoulder, your mirrors are not properly adjusted. I have most of my cars with the mirrors set to just the maximum of their adjustable range, but the upside is that i am not looking over my shoulder.

    Most people adjust their mirrors so they have a beautiful view of the side of their car. While your car is very pretty, there's no reason to be looking at it while you drive - you'll know if it falls off or disappears, even without the help of your mirror. So, you can liberate those side mirrors towards something more useful, like having them pointed all the way out so that you can see into the "blind spot" and the other lane.

    On all the cars i drive the mirrors are adjusted so that i can see a person either via mirrors, peripheral vision, or line of sight at all times in a circle around me.

    Incidentally, you dont see race car drivers looking over their shoulders - they cant, since they're in a harness and wearing a helmet that cuts side visbility. The magic is in the mirrors.

    The best thing you can do to not get into accidents is take a proper driving school, where you learn about mirror adjustment, vehicle dynamics, threshhold braking, looking through and ahead of objects properly, and how to relax and concentrate on your driving.

    You also forget to mention that your accelerator is also a good accident avoidance tool. In non-optimal road surface conditions (rain, ice, gravel), acceleration is the _least_ decreased of your tires capabilities, with steering being the most. If i was in a traction limited scenario and had to do an evasive manuever that would challenge the level of grip available, i might opt to accelerate as the tires would deliver acceleratino better than braking or steering.

  • Re:Ahh, but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:49PM (#12424821) Journal
    You know I hadn't really considered it, but this would definitely be a place in which the standard EULAs would get tested to death in court.

    Because you're right, they'd defintiely try and disclaim all responsiblity for anything bad happening, but there is NO WAY that would fly in the auto industry...we have a long history of suing them to bits when something breaks.

    The first time a MS car's cruise control screws up and plows someone into a Semi at 100 miles an hour their little fantasy world of "It's not our fault, it's never our fault" is going to go splat.
  • by wisdom_brewing (557753) on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:55PM (#12424886) Homepage
    12. re-test everyone every 5 years with slightly less stringent testing.
  • by Moofie (22272) <lee@ringofsaturn.3.1415926com minus pi> on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @04:57PM (#12424902) Homepage
    That $100,000 doesn't cover liability, though.

    Who is responsible if my automated car crashes? I absolutely believe that we could decrease the number of automotive fatalities by automating highway travel. However, I guarantee that every one of those fatalities would be accompanied by a lawsuit, even if the system is designed as well as can be. Systems fail, accidents happen, unforseen circumstances are unforseen, and some folk are gon' die. How do we indemnify the implementors of this system against undue legal problems, and how do we pursue irresponsible implementors and maintainers?

    This is complicated stuff, and it's a totally not-technical problem.
  • Re:Cameras? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Tuesday May 03, 2005 @05:57PM (#12425582) Journal
    Consider that applying the brakes doesn't always mean slamming down on the brake to try to stop the car, it just means slowing the car down in immediate preparation to stop. At any rate, statistically, a slower moving car is always going to be less deadly than a faster moving one.

    It just so happens that I have personally known people to have died in automobile accidents, and in two of those cases, it was because the driver thought it was best to swerve (navigate) to avoid an accident rather than simply apply the brakes. Blame doesn't bring the loss of my friends back, of course, but it does certainly increase my awareness of a potential driving pitfall.

    I have also seen cars completely totalled in accidents which may have arguably been caused by a person using the brakes to try to avoid another accident, but no fatalaties. Again, this furthers emphasizes that slower moving cars are automatically going to be less likely to be involved in a fatal collision.

    I figure a life is worth a few cars, at least. Take the safer path... even if it destroys a vehicle or two, because that's better than someone losing their life. Cars can be replaced, after all.

Whoever dies with the most toys wins.

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