TORONTO - Minnesota researchers have come up with a computer-generated 'virtual bumper' that lets trucks give an object an air kiss instead of a crushing blow.
Max Donath, director of the University of Minnesota Intelligent Transport Systems Institute, said the system has implications for collision avoidance and lane maneuvering that could control how vehicles interact by creating their own traffic buffer zone.
'It's not simply stopping,' the mechanical-engineering professor said. 'We also need to think about maneuvering around the other vehicle.'
Donath's remarks came during the sixth World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems, held last month here.
The virtual bumper uses antilock brakes and adaptive cruise control to set up a zone in front of and behind a vehicle. Future systems could add steering control and side-buffer zones.
'You define a personal space around the vehicle, and if any other objects - targets - enter this field, we sense their encroachment with a spring effect,' Donath said.
That means the harder or faster an object is approaching, the more firmly the bumper-equipped vehicle reacts to avoid a collision. An example might include a truck backing toward a loading dock: The driver would feel increasing resistance as the trailer nears the dock wall.
It also could allow similarly equipped vehicles to bounce gently off each other's impedance zones or off so-called 'road furniture,' such as signal-emitting lane markers.
The system would give the driver an automatic override. A big control change, such as a manual pull on the steering wheel for a fast lane change, briefly would cut out the system that keeps the car in a lane.
The Minnesota system is relatively crude, but the technology is evolving quickly. For instance, the year-old radar units it uses are outdated compared to what's on the market now. But Donath holds out hope that some of its abilities could become part of future intelligent transportation systems.
It may be that cars and trucks not only will set their own bumper zones, but will broadcast the driving commands they are operating under to nearby vehicles. That will allow flocklike behavior, to minimize accidents.