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Haptic Safety for Unmanned Vehicles

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Even as fully automated vehicles continue to be tested and used on roadways, there will likely still be a need for human involvement. Anticipating this need, Nikhil Chopra, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, is working on in-vehicle technology that will summon help in certain environments.

“We are developing a secure tele assist feature that can send an alert about unknown surroundings, so a driver can take control of the car from a remote location for added safety,” Chopra explains. In driving environments that call for flexibility and a high-level of decision-making, a human would currently be a better bet than a machine. A scenario where there is road construction and a detour that forces the vehicle into unfamiliar territory is a good example of this, according to Chopra. “In this case, someone would assume control of the wheel and pedals remotely to navigate through this environment,” he says.

How it Works

Remember that childhood game Simon Says? The one by Milton Bradley? You follow the flashing lights (red, blue, yellow and green) and try to imitate the sequence. The machine compares your selections to its own. The challenge is to remember all the flashing colors in the right order.

Flash forward to today and reverse the roles. Now a machine can imitate you in real-time. Now you can hold a joystick or data glove to communicate tactile sensations to cars and robots and use this capability to improve efficiency while advancing safety.

With haptic devices, humans can interact with computers by sending and receiving information through felt sensations. This is the kind of work that Chopra has been spearheading in recent years. A good portion of his research in the automotive domain aims to advance networked control for connected semiautonomous vehicles and virtual reality-based multimodal learning in self-driving cars.

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