A Moment of Science

Smart Wheels

If a car is about to hit something, it's not capable of slowing down or stopping all by itself. That might change soon, though.

Car crash in city streets

Photo: schatz (flickr)

Car crashes like this one in the streets of London might be avoided by a new "smart wheel" being developed at MIT

The cars we drive every day haven’t really changed much in a hundred years.  You start the car, the engine ignites, you turn the steering wheel, and the wheels move.  That’s it! If a car is about to hit something, it’s not capable of slowing down or stopping all by itself.  When we removed the horses to make horseless carriages, it seems we took away the only intelligent part!

That might change soon, though.  There are designers and engineers at MIT working on a new kind of three-wheeled car–a new kind of wheel actually. It’s a sort of “smart” wheel that contains most of the mechanical parts of the car–drive train, suspension, and braking. And the wheels have artificial intelligence–they can sense obstructions and potholes in the road. And since these smart wheels can communicate with each other, they could allow cars in cities to move in flocks, like birds or sheep, to eliminate traffic jams. Also, the wheels can turn 360 degrees, so the car can move in any direction.

These cars are just computer models and prototypes, however; it’s not like you can buy one at a car dealership.  At least, not yet.

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