I am almost ready to leave for CSUN. I was doing one last check of my mail and was pleased to see all the responses. This is going to be very exciting and we will all benefit from the experience. If the advertising mail I am getting is any indication, there will be many iPhones at the show.
I thought I would take this last post before leaving to talk about one of the truly exciting things in my life. My husband Mike is working on the most exciting project/product in my world. For the past year, Mike has been working on an autonomous car. In his role as an advance development engineer for Sun Microsystems and now Oracle, Mike helps projects get off the ground. For this particular project, he is consulting for Volkswagen & Stanford. This collaboration includes many different Silicon Valley companies. Mike’s part in the project will bring real-time Java into the car. He has written the hardware drivers that will allow for fewer computers to do many more jobs in the vehicle. Yesterday he said his software is now installed in the car and has already removed two computers.
For me, this project is extremely personal. My only real frustration and regret about being blind is transportation. Each day he works on the car it brings me one step closer to complete independence and autonomy. Mike and I have a long time understanding: when the first autonomous car is available our cashier’s check will already be printed and my name will be on the registration papers. Two years ago, I had my first opportunity to ride in an autonomous car. Tommy, one of the 2007 DARPA urban challenge finalists, was brought in for JavaOne. The Saturday before the conference, several staff and family were given an opportunity to ride through three Sun parking lots in the car. I cannot describe how exciting this was my first taste of freedom. It was a somewhat overcast day, which did not bode well for Tommy’s GPS guidance. The first person to get a ride was one of the Sun VPs. The car gracefully pulled away from the meeting area and did a beautiful job following its course. Just as the car was returning to the group of excited watchers, it missed the last turn and drove up on a curb. No damage was done and people were still clamoring to be next. Very shortly after this, it was my turn. Mike and I climbed into the back behind one of the chief engineers who was sitting in the passenger seat. If you did not know better you’d think you were in England. But the steering wheel was on the left side of the car where it should be. It was a very short ride but one of the most exciting of my life. There was a point when we were under heavy tree cover that we needed to intervene. However, this was still a prototype 10 years before predictions say a autonomous cars will be commercially available. I could feel the tentativeness of the car as it moved its way through the course. I never felt that there was a problem. Even when we got under the trees, the car just stopped. Trust me- riding with a person is much more dangerous than that. I’ve been in cars where the driver scared the daylights out of me with their poor driving. Tommy was just young and maybe a little cautious.
The car Mike is currently working on, Shelley, is destined to climb Pike’s Peak in the summer of 2011. She will travel at a constant speed of 130 mph. You can see a promotional video that Volkswagen made on youTube here: Stanford Audi Autonomous Vehicle.
The goal of the project is to examine how an autonomous car can maintain control past the limits of traction. This test may not be something a car ever has to do but the next time you slip on black ice you will appreciate the research and how far it is going. In the next two months or so, Shelley will have her first public tests. I hope to be there to cheer her on.