Cars of the future could allow drivers to simply enjoy the ride

UMKC professor’s U.S. Air Force research could produce vehicles with minds of their own

If Professor Vijay Kumar’s project goes as planned, maybe texting while driving will not be the issue it is today. An automatic system would guide cars on their way, leaving the “driver” free to text, shave or even nap! Such a system could be used for national defense purposes, as well.

This summer, University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Computing and Engineering (SCE) Professor Vijay Kumar is designing and developing a prototype of a “self-synchronizing moving objects” system under the summer fellowship program at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Rome, N.Y. In the fall, Kumar said he will seek funding from AFRL and other sources to complete the prototype at his SCE lab.

“It will be similar to an automatic pilot, as in an airplane,” Kumar said. “Initially, a voice-activated system will give commands to the driver that he or she will follow. Later, a fully-automatic system will be developed in which the driver would not have any role to play, except to just enjoy the drive!”

Kumar and his team will investigate how cars can self-synchronize to move along roads and through intersections without conflict. System tests will be conducted with programmed toy cars. Thus, instead of controlling traffic with traffic lights and stop signs, Kumar’s system would install traffic management logic and functionality in every vehicle. Each vehicle would be fitted with sensors that can communicate position, speed and direction with other vehicles, allowing the vehicles to make informed decisions.

After developing expertise in two-dimensional spaces, such as vehicles on a road, Kumar would expand the system to handle multi-dimensional spaces, such as airplanes in the sky. Kumar’s Ph.D. student, Amol Khedkar, is working to expand the scheme to three-dimensional spaces.

Eventually, the team plans to demonstrate the system to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

“We are quite optimistic that this will work, because it works in a simplified manner for unmanned automatic vehicles, such as the Predator,” Kumar said. “Eventually, all cars could be managed by our scheme. By that time, the majority of cars will have electric engines, which will make it easier to deploy sensors that are an essential component of our scheme.”

In addition to developing a self-synchronizing scheme for vehicles, Kumar is involved in the development of an object tracking system to track any desired vehicle at AFRL. The system will first identify the vehicle to track and then initiate the tracking process. Such a tracking system would help the ground command control a hijacked plane’s movement, for example. Improving the system, Kumar said, would increase national security and allow pilots to successfully complete mission-critical projects.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.

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