If traditional automakers were worried that the technological might of Google was being brought to bear on the driverless car scene, then this latest announcement is likely to have them quaking in their driving shoes. NASA, the space exploration organisation, is also working on a driverless vehicle system, pioneered by some of the automated technologies that it developed as part of its rover space probes.
The system is called the Modular Robotic Vehicle, or MRV, which is shown off in a new developmental video to be capable of driving autonomously, via direct input from a human driver or from a distance with a remote control.
“This work allowed us to develop some technologies we felt were needed for our future rovers,” said ISS flight controller, Justin Ridley of the MRV. “These include redundant by-wire systems, liquid cooling, motor technology, advanced vehicle control algorithms. We were able to learn a lot about these and other technologies by building this vehicle.”
The vehicle is entirely battery powered, with each wheel controlled separately by its own electric motor. Because of that compartmentalisation, each wheel can rotate through a full 180 degrees, letting it turn on the spot, as well as take tight corners at speed without losing control. It’s able to do this on various surfaces and in various conditions, performing manoeuvres that simply aren’t possible in a current car.
Showcased in the video below, is the MRV’s ability to ‘drift’ but without burning through tyres, as the wheels can simply turn in the direction that the user wants the car to go, sending it flying sideways and backwards before ‘reversing and travelling forwards without any perceivable strain on the vehicle.
The in-vehicle dashboard has a number of displays giving constant feedback to the driver about the condition of the vehicle, how it’s operating and what it’s planning to do. It’s also a method for inputting commands or a destination for the vehicle’s operator, before setting it off in autonomous mode.
Together with Nissan, NASA is currently developing a fully autonomous, zero emissions vehicle, according to Mashable, with plans to give the car its first test run in the next few months.
While I don’t think cars of the future will look quite like this MRV design, it’s an interesting thought. Should electric cars, with their independent wheel motors, be designed to be more versatile in their movements? Let us know below.