Sensors and Systems
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perspectivesz_glow_blue.jpgWhile relating automobiles to sustainability, the focus here is on this marvel of engineering, and steers clear of the fact that this is a high-priced and gas guzzling personal vehicle. It’s not a stretch to compare individual personal safety in the high-speed and potentially chaotic environment of highway driving to the dangers that our planet faces as the global temperatures rise and repercussions are felt.

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Reading about the 2010 Mercedes E-Class Sedan is instructive because of its increasing use of sensors to improve safety. There are sensors that monitor driver habits and actions to create individual driver profiles, as well as sensors to monitor each wheel, every acceleration, and every maneuver. If the driver inadvertently drifts into the next lane, there’s a ‘Lane Keeping Assist’ that checks hundreds of variables to see if the move is intentional, and if it’s deemed accidental then the steering wheel gently vibrates to bring you back on track. There’s a radar-based adaptive cruise control that monitors the traffic around you, and if a car ahead of you slows or comes to an abrupt stop, the car maintains the same distance, including coming to an urgent stop if necessary. The car senses traffic in your blind spots and alerts you. And, there’s a headlamp feature that automatically brightens and dims your lights, with a night view assist that filters light to see in darkness or fog, beyond the range of human eyesight.

The comparison is designed to point to a number of developments in our acceptance and reliance on machine-based control for safety that can and should be extended to how we collectively approach the management of our environment. While relating automobiles to sustainability, the focus here is on this marvel of engineering, and steers clear of the fact that this is a high-priced and gas guzzling personal vehicle.

Speed and Heat

It’s not a stretch to compare individual personal safety in the high-speed and potentially chaotic environment of highway driving to the dangers that our planet faces as the global temperatures rise and repercussions are felt. At higher speeds of travel, there’s less time to react and thus greater hazards from unexpected roadway conditions or the driving mistakes of others. We strive to cushion ourselves from impacts, and engineer our vehicles to assist beyond our own sensory limitations.

Similarly, with higher temperatures on our planet, the repercussions of increased heat compound themselves as we face a tipping point where the feedback loops of decreased reflective ice and released carbon emissions accelerate planetary warming. While the problems of climate change are far more complex, there’s an acceleration taking place here that requires creative applications of technology to cushion and combat the temperature rise.

Engineered Assistance

The radar assisted cruise control and driver monitoring system are giant leaps forward for sensor performance that integrate sensor feedback to assist the driver in real time. The speed with which these systems must combine inputs to inform driver decisions bodes well for advancements in other sensor systems that require real-time response.

The fact that this system has reached production in high performance automobiles means that it will soon propagate to lower priced vehicles, and will advance the idea of smart cars. The idea of intelligent transportation has advanced, promising to one day allow us to give over complete control of our vehicles for high-speed, long-distance trips that greatly increase vehicle efficiency.

Sensor reliance in personal vehicles provides a point of advocacy for the reliance on increased sensor inputs in our environments. If we come to increasingly rely on the sensor systems in our personal vehicles for our personal safety, that trust and reliance can be transferred to the broader scale for greater reliance on sensor systems for our collective safety.

Exposing Blind Spots

We need to devise systems and solutions that can pick up on the many chaotic changes taking place around us. Each individual change in climate adds a great deal of noise about how we should respond to threats to our ocean, land use, biodiversity, economy, etc. We need to devise sensor webs to take in all the feedback of what is going on around us in order to prioritize what needs to be done.

Amalgamating sensor inputs will allow us to cut through the fog of all the changes and point to practical and meaningful changes that make a difference. The more sensors and systems that we create, the better we’ll be able to assess what needs to be done. Relating back to the vehicle on a highway analogy, perhaps we’re traveling now at 55 m.p.h. with some time to react, and some distance to those objects that threaten to crash us. We need systems now in order to deal with our rapidly accelerating state.

Human ingenuity has long strived to provide machine-based inputs and controls upon our most dangerous behaviors. While there may be some pushback on these systems due to some limitations on freedoms, the time has come to create a highly engineered system to help cushion our planet from the many impacts of climate change.

 

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