by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Are Self-Driven Cars Imminent?
Several companies have been backing the development of autonomous cars,
including Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, and GM, plus several universities and (somewhat
curiously) Google. It may be a long time before such self-driving vehicles are common
on US highways — but maybe not. Apparently, a Google-developed automated Toyota
Prius has already logged more than 140,000 miles, traveling on the Pacific Coast
highway, around Lake Tahoe, and even down Lombard St. In fact, the state of Nevada
recently passed Bill 511 ( www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/76th2011/Bills/AB/
AB511_EN.pdf), "AN ACT relating to transportation; providing certain privileges to the
owner or long-term lessee of a qualified alternative fuel vehicle; authorizing in this
State the operation of, and a driver's license endorsement for operators of,
autonomous vehicles; providing a penalty; and providing other matters properly
relating thereto." Now we just have to figure out where to buy one.
GM's Electric Networked-Vehicle
(EN-V) self-driving concept car.
Pot Shot Bot
A pretty cool robotic application developed by the Aussies at Marathon Robotics ( www.ma
rathon-targets.com) takes the form of the Marathon Target machines. Not only are they highly valuable for
marksmanship training programs, but someone has finally found a useful application for Segway®
vehicles, which are employed for locomotion. According to the company, "Traditional targetry systems
such as rails and pop-ups are fundamentally limited and inflexible in presenting realistic challenging
targets. Marathon Targets has created smart targets — an innovative solution which eliminates the
current constraints and introduces a step change in quality of training." The bots can move freely and
randomly around the entire training environment, executing complex scenarios as determined by the
on-board software, thus producing human-like movement. They use GPS technology and scanning laser
rangefinders for navigation, positioning, and obstacle detection and avoidance. When one is shot, its
mannequin drops, and the rest scatter and run for cover. The entire package is heavily armored and
fitted with puncture-proof tires, and its motors can propel it at human running speed. The most
obvious uses are for law enforcement and military training, and, in fact, the US Marines bought $50
million worth of them last year. But you have to think — wouldn't it be fun to put one in your
backyard, invite some gun-toting redneck friends over, and crack a bottle
of Jack Daniel's? Lock 'n load, Bubba! To see what it's all about, point
your browser at www.jkeckert.com/freedownloads/marathon.wmv.
Marathon Target robots
like this one are designed
to "make your day."
“Yotel” Features Robotic Bellhop
If you're headed for the Big Apple and want to stay in a place that is
both (relatively) cheap and radically different, consider the Yotel
( www.yotel.com), located just two blocks from Times Square. Whereas the
average hotel room in NYC goes for $236 a night, Yotel rooms start at $179
and provide some luxurious amenities, even if in a small package.
Contributing to the low overhead is the fact that check-in and check-out are
automated via airport-like kiosks, and a 20 ft industrial robot handles your
luggage. Plus, the basic room (referred to as a "cabin") is furnished with a
futon-like bed and gives you only about 170 sq ft of breathing room. (For a
few extra bucks, though, you can upgrade to a 320 sq ft unit with a king
bed.) On the positive side, all cabins include "super strength" Wi-Fi and a
workstation; a "technowall with TV, music, and power; a "monsoon power"
shower room with body wash; and free breakfast on each floor. The facility features New York's largest outdoor terrace
( 7,000 sq ft), an indoor "studiyo," four bars, and a restaurant inspired by a sumo wrestling ring. This is the first US-based
facility, but others are open for business at airports in London and Amsterdam.
The Yobot luggage robot handles the front
desk at New York's Yotel.
8 SERVO 09.2011