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Soon, auto-pilot car that manoeuvres itself through traffic jams

June 26, 2012 - London

Ford has claimed that within five years some of their models will boast auto-pilot technology that will guide you through congestion, allowing the driver to take his hands off the steering wheel and feet off the pedals while he enjoys some much-needed relaxation.

When the traffic jam ends and the car reaches 30mph, the auto-pilot -called 'Traffic Jam Assist' - hands control of the vehicle back to the refreshed driver.

Ford reckons that the revolutionary technology will soon be available on several of their models.

According to experts, the widespread adoption of this new technology could help speed up traffic caught in jams by up to 37 percent and reduce journey times by 20 percent by helping cars keep pace more efficiently with the flow of the traffic, the Daily Mail reported.

Prototypes are being tested at Ford's European research and advanced engineering centre in Aachen, Germany, and in the US.

The system works using a camera and radar behind the rear-view mirror, which scans and 'reads' the road ahead by picking out the white lines, which mark the lane, in addition to any other traffic.

Signals are then sent to the 'brains' of the system in a computer central processing unit or 'black box.'

Once a jam is detected, the car uses a voice command to ask the driver if he wished to relinquish the control of the car and switch to Traffic Jam Assist.

If the answer is in the affirmative, then the car assumes command - braking to stop a collision with the car in front or to slow down to meet its speed, and then accelerating to keep up with the flow of cars in front when they move off.

The auto pilot even recognises a car that 'cuts in' ahead of the vehicle in front and take appropriate braking action if required.

The current system is only designed for motorways or dual-carriageways, rather than in urban traffic where the picture is further complicated by pedestrians and cyclists.

But coping with that level of sophistication is just a matter of time.

Ford bosses point out that cars have become increasingly autonomous in recent years with additions such as 'adaptive cruise control which applies brakes if the traffic ahead slows down, 'lane-assist' which will warn a sleepy or inattentive driver if a car is drifting out of its lane and nudge it back on track, and 'park assist' which helps in parallel parking.

Pim van der Jagt, managing director of Ford's Aachen operation, insists that there is no legal obstacle to introducing the system on British roads.

"It can be allowed now," he said.

"The car will stay in the middle of the lane even when the motorway takes a curve. It will accelerate, brake and steer itself in a jam," he said.

However, Ford bosses insist that the driver still has to pay some attention.

Switching to auto-pilot during a jam and then reading a newspaper would not be considered sensible, they say, even though some of their marketing graphics show a man waving a coffee cup and eating a doughnut while driving hands and feet-free.

"Drivers spend more than 30 per cent of their time in heavy traffic," Ford research engineer Joseph Urhahne said.

"And if there's one thing more frustrating than being stuck in a jam, it's being stuck in a jam where drivers are slow to keep pace with the movement around them.

"Traffic Jam Assist could help make travelling through congestion a more relaxing experience and, by keeping pace with the flow of traffic, potentially help relieve road congestion," he added.

Ford's global executive chairman, Bill Ford, great grandson of the company's founder Henry Ford, said that the fully self-driving car could be a reality by 2025 - just 13 years away.


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