Vehicular automation

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For vehicles relying completely on automation, see Autonomous car and Unmanned ground vehicle.
"intelligent car" redirects here. For the European Commission policy, see Intelligent Car Initiative.
The ESA Seeker autonomous rover during tests at Paranal.[1]

Vehicular automation involves the use of mechatronics, artificial intelligence, and multi-agent system to assist a vehicle's operator. These features and the vehicles employing them may be labeled as intelligent or smart. A vehicle using automation for difficult tasks, especially navigation, may be referred to as semi-autonomous. A vehicle relying solely on automation is consequently referred to as robotic or autonomous. After the invention of the integrated circuit, the sophistication of automation technology increased. Manufacturers and researchers subsequently added a variety of automated functions to automobiles and other vehicles.

Ground vehicles[edit]

Further information: Unmanned ground vehicles

Ground vehicles employing automation and teleoperation range from shipyard gantries and mining trucks to the likes of bomb-disposal robots and robotic insects.

There are plenty of autonomous and semi-autonomous ground vehicles being made for the purpose of transporting passengers. One such example is the free-ranging on grid (FROG) technology which consists of autonomous vehicles, a magnetic track and a supervisory system. The FROG system is deployed for industrial purposes in factory sites and has been operated since 1999[2] as a public transport system in the city of Capelle aan den IJssel to connect the Rivium business park with the neighboring city of Rotterdam (where the route terminates at the Kralingse Zoom metro station). The system experienced a crash in 2005[3] that proved to be caused by a human error.[4]

Applications for automation in ground vehicles include the following:

Research is ongoing and prototypes of autonomous ground vehicles exist.


See also: Autonomous car

Extensive automation for cars focuses on either introducing robotic cars or modifying modern car designs to be semi-autonomous. Semi-autonomous designs could be implemented sooner as they rely less on technology that is still at the forefront of research. An example is the Dual mode monorail. Groups such as RUF (Denmark), BiWay (UK), ATN (New Zealand) and TriTrack (USA) are working on projects consisting of private cars that dock onto monorail tracks and are driven autonomously around the track.

As a method of automating cars without extensively modifying the cars as much as a robotic car, Automated highway systems (AHS) aims to construct lanes on highways that would be equipped with, for example, magnets to guide the vehicles. Highway computers would manage the traffic and direct the cars to avoid crashes.

The European Commission has established a smart car development program called the Intelligent Car Flagship Initiative.[5] The goals of that program include:

There are plenty of further uses for automation in relation to cars. These include:


Aircraft has received much attention for automation, especially for navigation. A system capable of autonomously navigating a vehicle (especially aircraft) is known as autopilot.


Underwater vehicles have been a focus for automation for tasks such as pipeline inspection and underwater mapping. See Autonomous underwater vehicle.


An example of an automated train is the Docklands Light Railway in London.


One of the current limitations for vehicular automation is the sheer amount of processing power required to mimic the vision of a human operator. This is a problem not just in expense but also in the electrical power required to run the processors.[8]

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