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Volkswagen announced their Temporary Autopilot (TAP) system last month, and it's just shown up on video. If anything, it works better than advertised, and includes some innovative features that do their best to keep you safe, even if you completely zone out: As you can see, this TAP system has been integrated into a production car, and uses production-level radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors along with by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon to do everything that it does. In other words, there's no crazy custom electronics involved, and nothing that could keep a system like this from becoming (say) an optional extra in a production car relatively soon. A big stumbling block for this kind of thing is the issue of liability and who is (or isn't) in control of the car, and Volkswagen very deliberately includes the following in their press release: "The driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control.
We've been wondering why no car company has ever tied lane-assist (which automatically keeps your car in its lane) to adaptive cruise control (which automatically keeps your car a safe distance from cars ahead) to create a fully autonomous highway cruise mode for cars . We're talking about sensor systems that have existed in midrange to high end cars for quite a while (like, years), suggesting that the hold-up hasn't been so much technological as social and legal. Finally, Volkswagen (who has been a consistent innovator in the autonomous car field) seems to have decided to do the obvious and let lane-assist and adaptive cruise team up to handle your car on the highway without you needing to do anything at all: The Temporary Auto Pilot (TAP) bundles semi-automatic functions, i.e. functions monitored by the driver, with other driver assistance systems.
Designing a robot that can traverse variable terrain usually involves a number of unsatisfactory compromises. You can go with a flying robot, which will almost never get stuck, but is of limited use in detailed sensing and can't operate for very long. Or, you can go with a ground robot, which is much more efficient, but also much more likely to run into an obstacle that it can't get around.
Japanese prototype of a train that levitates on cushions of air. High speed trains are huge in Asia, but barring a catastrophe, most of them are designed to stay firmly on the ground, running on rails. There are plenty of good reasons not to run on rails, though, one of which is that you can go much faster without all that friction. This is the idea behind maglev trains , but there's still a lot of wind drag that crops up between the bottom of a maglev train and its track that makes them less efficient (which combined with other problems make maglevs very costly). A ground-effect vehicle takes advantage of this fast-moving air and uses some stubby little wings to fly just above the ground, like a maglev without the mag. This is a tricky thing to do, since you have to control the vehicle more like an airplane than a train, meaning that you have to deal with pitch, roll, and yaw and not just the throttle.