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Researchers Test Drive Bus With Automated Steering 180

Posted by Soulskill
from the watch-out-for-the-t-rex dept.
An anonymous reader tips us to news that researchers at University of California, Berkeley, have successfully test driven a 60-foot bus that controlled its own steering. Sensors on the bus detected magnets that had been embedded in a San Leandro road, and it was able to reach stops within one centimeter of its desired position. Acceleration and braking during the test were controlled by a human operator, but the system is capable of handling those as well, and has done so on test courses. "... sensors mounted under the bus measured the magnetic fields created from the roadway magnets, which were placed beneath the pavement surface 1 meter apart along the center of the lane. The information was translated into the bus's lateral and longitudinal position by an on-board computer, which then directed the vehicle to move accordingly. For a vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour, data from 27 meters (88 feet) of roadway can be read and processed in 1 second. Zhang added that the system is robust enough to withstand a wide range of operating conditions, including rain or snow, a significant improvement to other vehicle guidance systems based upon optics."
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Researchers Test Drive Bus With Automated Steering

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  • by nathan.fulton (1160807) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#24991013) Journal
    who gets sued in the event of a crash?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      This is why self driven vehicles are a very very long way off. Even in the event that they bring collisions and other related problems down to 0.01% of their current rate, it still won't be good enough. When a crash happens now, it's almost always the fault of the person behind the wheel (except with mechanical failure, which is rare, and even more rare when you consider it's the fault of the driver for unmaintained vehicles). However, when cars start driving themselves, any crash will automatically be t
    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @01:18PM (#24991581)

      ...a car with anti-lock brakes still rear-ends someone?

      "Cars that drive themselves" won't arrive as a new option in model year 20XX. They'll encroach bit by bit, following in the footsteps of automatic spark advance, electric starters, power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, cruise control, electronic fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, traction control, collision avoidance, self-parking...

      When you finally do get a car that can "drive itself", you'll probably be too busy talking on your cell phone and using your extended navigation/information center to notice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wronskyMan (676763)
        +1

        In aviation, planes have had autopilots for years (and recently, autoland systems), yet there is no giant puzzle as to who is responsible if the AP-equipped plane crashes: from the US aviation regulations, "The pilot in command is responsible at all times for the safe operation of the aircraft". Maybe a similar principle for cars is needed.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          An aircraft autopilot is also ready to be disengaged at any moment by the pilot if he thinks he needs to. Indeed, there has been at least one serious airliner accident caused by the pilot inadvertently disengaging the autopilot but not realizing it until it was too late.

          An automated car which can drive fully independently will be a total game-changer. An automated car which requires the driver to still pay attention and be ready to take over control at all times is much less interesting.

          • Agreed, and if there were no provisions to manually disengage the auto-drive system, then there could be liability on the manufacturer - hopefully they will put in a mechanism similar to the cruise control auto-disconnecting when you tap the brakes.
      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        "Cars that drive themselves" won't arrive as a new option in model year 20XX.

        Besides, by that time we'll have to worry about Dr. Wily and fighting robots. [youtube.com]

      • by beelsebob (529313)

        No one said that having ABS would stop you from rear ending someone. Merely that it would stop you faster if you hit the brakes too hard and started to slide. If you're still rear ending people *with* ABS, then you need to think about one of two things. Firstly, driving further away from the guy in front of you. Or secondly inventing a system like this one that does the driving far enough away automatically.

  • trams! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#24991015) Journal
    The 19th century called....they want their trams back.
    • by westlake (615356)
      The 19th century called....they want their trams back.
      .

      The cost of maintaining tracks, switches, overheads, etc., helped kill the streetcar. It's all over and above the expense of maintaining the road.

      There was no simple or economical way to re-route lines or add new ones.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NiceGeek (126629)

        Really? The streetcar is dead? I guess I rode a ghost train in downtown Portland, OR the other day.

        • by westlake (615356)
          Really? The streetcar is dead? I guess I rode a ghost train in downtown Portland, OR the other day.
          .

          The neanderthal geek of 1902 made a game of seeing how far and - need it be said? - how cheaply - the electric lines could take him:

          a sack of nickels, a cast iron butt and bladder was all you needed to make the run from New York to Chicago.

          The Portland Loop is eight miles.

          In 1917 there were 45,000 miles of track - but the bloom was off the rose.
          A Streetcar City [si.edu]

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ngg (193578)

        The cost of maintaining tracks, switches, overheads, etc., helped kill the streetcar. It's all over and above the expense of maintaining the road.

        That's because the cost of repairing damage caused to the road by heavy buses is largely invisible on municipal budgets. To wit: when streetcar tracks need repair, the cost appears on the streetcar budget; but when potholes (caused primarily by heavy vehicles like buses and trucks) need repair, the cost is absorbed by the "street maintenance" budget. Car-driving voters usually like politicians who spend money for pothole repairs. Streetcar operators, having been primarily private companies, also would no

  • Sabotage? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maeka (518272) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#24991017) Journal

    But can it survive intentional sabotage?
    Placing magnets on the surface of the pavement would not be hard to do.

    • by bbk (33798)

      Exactly what I thought - what about other sources of mangentic interference (say the motor of an electric vehicle, etc.)?

      • Re:Sabotage? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Graff (532189) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:29PM (#24991165)

        what about other sources of mangentic interference (say the motor of an electric vehicle, etc.)?

        This is no different than the head of a hard drive traveling over the disk surface. The magnets can be in a coded pattern that is encrypted a certain way that would be robust enough to overcome possible interference, whether accidental or intentional.

        Yes, there are always risks of sabotage or an accident but this is no different than the risks of our current roadways. What's to stop someone from spreading caltrops across the road and causing a massive accident? How about the accidental interference of an oil spill or a bridge support giving way?

        As with everything, you try to build redundancy and robustness into the system and limit the risks. Just because a system has the possibility of failing doesn't mean the idea is worthless.

        • Re:Sabotage? (Score:5, Informative)

          by maeka (518272) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:49PM (#24991307) Journal

          This is no different than the head of a hard drive traveling over the disk surface. The magnets can be in a coded pattern that is encrypted a certain way that would be robust enough to overcome possible interference, whether accidental or intentional.

          With a bit-per-meter you simply do not have enough data density to do any sort of robust encryption.

          Yes, there are always risks of sabotage or an accident but this is no different than the risks of our current roadways. What's to stop someone from spreading caltrops across the road and causing a massive accident? How about the accidental interference of an oil spill or a bridge support giving way?

          1 - caltrops in pavement should not cause a massive accident. For evidence see police use of spike-strips to stop fleeing vehicles. Rarely do vehicles lose control under even the more catastrophic tire failure these hollow spikes cause as opposed to caltrops.
          2 - Oil spills and bridge failures are not only more apparent than covert placement of magnets, they are also harder acts of sabotage to achieved w/o being caught.

          But enough of the pedantic replies to your specifics, on your general claim that "this is no different than the risks of our current roadways" I will argue this is completely different than the risks of our current roadways.
          Current roadway systems rely on human drivers. A human driver can react in a much more flexible manner than any automated drive system. Whereas it appears this system would be easy to fake with the high tech equivalent of false road signs, no (few?) human would drive into a lake because a fake road sign told them to. Again, this is not just about new technologies creating security risks which previously didn't exist, but more so the new assumptions which frequently come with the adoption of said technologies creating newly viable attack vectors.

          • Re:Sabotage? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Carrot007 (37198) <Carrot007@nosPaM.thewibblereport.co.uk> on Saturday September 13, 2008 @01:00PM (#24991413) Homepage

            >no (few?) human would drive into a lake because a fake road sign told them to.

            Cue links to stories detailing the idiocy of people using sat nav...

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            An automated system may in fact be more vulnerable to sabotage than what we have now, though I suspect you overestimate the difficulty in committing sabotage in the current system. But that isn't really the point.

            Right now cars are ridiculously dangerous, accounting for about 2 percent of deaths [wikipedia.org], and most of these accidents are due to human error [wikipedia.org]. I suspect that the number of deaths due to sabotage are much, much lower than those due to human caused car accidents, and besides, a potential saboteur can alw

            • by maeka (518272)

              Complete straw-man.
              I never claimed people were safer drivers than machines.
              I simply was thinking out loud about the possibility to compromise the safety of this sort of system.

      • by Eudial (590661)

        Exactly what I thought - what about other sources of mangentic interference (say the motor of an electric vehicle, etc.)?

        Most magnetic fields are very weak, unless designed not to be. Most sources of magnetic fields, like transformers and solenoids bleed very little outside their surface, and commonly decay very quickly.

        Depending on how this technology works, it may also be possible to effectively filter out any magnetic field not emanating from below (or above) the bus. The induced current in a loop of wire in the same plane as the floor of the bus will have a factor sin(theta), where theta is the angle between the loop and

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Yes. 1. TFA: "In the system demonstrated today, sensors mounted under the bus measured the magnetic fields created from the roadway magnets, which were placed beneath the pavement surface 1 meter apart along the center of the lane." I'm assuming (but probably a safe one, UC Berkley is full of smart people) that the system has some pretty specific levels of acceptable differential in the magnetic field. Otherwise, any large magnet -- of which there are many in a large city -- would be able to modify its d
      • Re:Sabotage? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy (595695) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:55PM (#24991371) Homepage
        Why would it simply supplement a driver? If you still have to pay some guy $60,000 a year to sit in the bus, you might as well save the money on the magnetic navigation, and just have the guy drive the bus. Using a system like this only makes sense (and cents) if you can actually remove the driver from the bus. Since you'll always need somebody on the bus (for the foreseeable future), to ensure fares are paid, and to answer the questions of riders on which route to take, and about why the guy on the back of the bus has his pet pig on the bus, and to tell the able bodied people to get out of the priority seating on the bus so the guy with the wheelchair can get on the bus, you aren't going to get much advantage from a system like this.
        • by gfody (514448)

          You think a bus driver makes $60,000 a year?
          From salary.com:

          The median expected salary for a typical Bus Driver in the United States is $18,234. This basic market pricing report was prepared using our Certified Compensation Professionals' analysis of survey data collected from thousands of HR departments at employers of all sizes, industries and geographies.

          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            Well, I don't know about the US, but in Canada [payscale.com], they can demand quite a bit more. Average $56,000 for 1-4 years of experience. And with the unions in place, they get quite a bit more as their seniority increases, although for some reason payscale.com blocks those numbers from public view.
      • by maeka (518272)

        Yes. 1. TFA: "In the system demonstrated today, sensors mounted under the bus measured the magnetic fields created from the roadway magnets, which were placed beneath the pavement surface 1 meter apart along the center of the lane." I'm assuming (but probably a safe one, UC Berkley is full of smart people) that the system has some pretty specific levels of acceptable differential in the magnetic field. Otherwise, any large magnet -- of which there are many in a large city -- would be able to modify its dire

    • Re:Sabotage? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheLink (130905) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:49PM (#24991311) Journal
      Yeah it does sound unsafe to me.

      I've been thinking how about "just don't do that then"?

      After all, placing stuff on railway tracks can derail a train and kill people. Doesn't even have to be anything fancy.

      Someone could just as easily pour motor oil on a dangerous bend and get people killed.

      As a species we really have to start growing up.

      If technology continues improving, the amount of power the average individual is able to wield is likely to increase dramatically.

      So the alternatives are grow up, or lose freedoms (not good), or experience "some random idiot thinks it's funny to kill everybody" (also not good).

      The odds are we're doomed, but who knows we might get lucky.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stoicfaux (466273)

      Use redundant sensor systems:
      * magnets in road
      * GPS
      * inertial guidance
      * collision detection sensors
      * inspection vehicles
      * encoded/encrypted magnets as per Graff's suggestion
      * combinations of the above: if magnet #1234 isn't at GPS coordinates X,Y,Z then shutdown. If the inertial guidance, GPS and magnets do not agree then shutdown.
      * tamper resistant magnets: every Nth magnet is too big to easily move
      * lots of magnets: there are too many small magnets to easily move or sabotage
      * video image analysis: if

  • I'll be impressed when I can sit back in rush hour, bring up a movie, and pop a old one and watch.

    That can be a couple of hours here in Metro Atlanta.

    • 'article'.

      Ah hem! Press releases are not news.

      I can release a press release that say, "ButterOldGuy has invented a process of vetting the most perfect VP and how any geek can get laid by a super model or better yet, a porn star."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You can now. It's called public transportation.
      • You can now. It's called public transportation.

        Ah yes. Touche. BUT, public transport also gets caught in traffic. I'm assuming with these controlled buses, traffic would be controlled so that even the buses wouldn't get bogged down in a traffic pile up.

        Besides, my movies star Jenna Jamison. I can't watch them on public transport!

  • by rah1420 (234198) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:14PM (#24991031)

    I would've liked to have been on a Robobus back in July. An idiot driver in an SUV cut our bus off, and the driver firewalled the brake to avoid hitting him. My 3 year old daughter planted her face in the fiberglass seat ahead of us, I was in a side-facing seat and almost went through the windshield and my wife got thrown into a stairwell.

    My guess is that Robobus would've kept going right into the SUV. Would've served him right.

    (No, he didn't stop and we didn't get the plate number. He took off into the night.)

    Hey SUV driver; if you cut a bus off at 100th St. in Ocean City, MD on August 2nd, you're a bastard.

    • by monsul (1342167)
      maybe it was a roboSUV.....powered by Vista (I know, I know, cheap shot...)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by algerath (955721)
        Powered by Vista. I just had an image of a bus stopping every 3 feet "the bus has encountered a magnet cancel or allow"chug chug chug "the bus has .........
    • by Jimmy_B (129296)

      As unhappy as you were getting bounced around, an actual collision would've been much worse for you. Bad drivers should be punished by fining them and taking away their licenses, not by crashing into them.

      • by Adambomb (118938)

        If these systems are successful, i'm sure it will not be long before municipalities have them rigged with automated photo-radar/imaging systems for automated ticketing...in areas where such things dont have precedents against them at least.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheLink (130905)
      Reminds me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDTLo-nDsUQ

      Crazy car driver.

      I think the bus driver in that accident should have just braked in a straight line and not swerved, even if he hits the car - if he slows down enough the people in the car should be ok.

      If not well too bad - esp if the driver had died I'd have called it suicide ;).

      It's also likely there are fewer people in the car than in the bus.
  • Robustness? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by polymath69 (94161) <dr DOT slashdot AT mailnull DOT com> on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:15PM (#24991043) Homepage

    robust enough to withstand a wide range of operating conditions, including rain or snow

    Nice, but does it drive in random directions if someone has set loose a bag of magnetic marbles on the road? I'd have a hard time trusting this.

    • Re:Robustness? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @01:15PM (#24991537)

      It's interesting that new technology is always held to a higher standard than established technology.

      We trust trains even though someone could put some rubble on the tracks. We trust human drivers even though someone could shine a laser pointer into their eyes. We trust bikes even though someone could string up a tripwire. We trust buffet restaurants even though someone could put crushed glass into the food.

      Newsflash: if someone wants to sabotage a piece of infrastructure, they'll find a way! Obviously autonomous driving vehicles need to be able to continue functioning despite normal interference (weather, traffic accidents, etc.), and even some forms of sabotage. But ultimately it will be possible for someone to mess with the system. Just as it is with everything else.

      Tossing a bag of magnetic marbles in front of robo-busses is no different than dropping bricks on cars from an overpass: the main deterrent is that most people are not sadistic assholes trying to kill other people.

    • Last time I checked a bus was several metres long. They could have several sensors along the length of the bus, and any signal not occurring at the 1m interval could be ignored. Besides, this was a proof of concept thing, not an actual install. I'd throw some RFIDs in the road instead of magnets. They can give details on the route (eg "right turn in 1.9 metres") and be harder to spoof.
  • by TheLuggage (651315) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:25PM (#24991133)
    wow, i'm almost impressed except we have those already for a while. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phileas_(public_transport) [wikipedia.org] They were supposed to be driverless, but dutch laws reuires a driver to be behind the wheel of a vehicle... Don't know where they got that idea ;-)
  • Empty vs. Full Roads (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mdmkolbe (944892) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:31PM (#24991183)

    Sure it can navigate an empty road, but what about once there are other cars on it or pot holes or what if the bus service needs a temporary detour?

    Cool from a technology perspective, but I doubt it will ever be applied to actual street driving. Most likely it will end up with some alternative use like controlling the office mail cart or something.

    • by profplump (309017)

      Cars are giant and fairly solid. Ultrasonic sensors are very good at picking them out. Even much smaller objects -- like people and traffic cones -- are pretty easy to detect and avoid. Likewise visual systems can generally differential between "road surface", "other surface", and "obstacle" with very high reliability.

      As for detours, it's a little more complicated. An obvious solution is "use humans for detours." Busses typically run bi-directional routes along the same roadway, so a driver could simply shu

  • Why would anybody investigate this goofy plan? [ An oversupply of government and foundation grants from brain-dead administrators? ]

    Why would we automate the driving of vehicles when there is a serious unemployment problem? Automating the driving would greatly reduce the jobs for drivers. Isn't the Teamsters Union rather strong?

    What does putting hundreds of thousands of expensive magnets in the road systems do to solve the problem of oil depletion?(which leads to fuel costs that exceed the value of the

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ductonius (705942)

      Why would we automate the driving of vehicles when there is a serious unemployment problem?

      The economy will see no lost jobs. Saving the cost of "busdriver" jobs will allow for the creation of other jobs elsewhere. The money normally spent on drivers will go toward increasing demand for other goods or services. That increased demand will create more jobs, and because inefficiency was removed the jobs that replace "busdriver" jobs will be more numerous and better paying. So, if unemployment is a problem, ma

    • While this tech. alone won't be of much use I could see it being part of a more sophisticated automated driving system. Car makers already have automatic cruise control, colision avoidance systems, radar etc either available or in developement so I think a system combining these technologies might not be that far into the future.

      Imagine a HOV type lane that allowed drivers of compatible vehicles to travel at 100+ mph within a foot or two of each other. The fuel savings due to the aerodynamic advantages of

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Instead of having thousands of trucks carrying goods from LA to Phoenix, we need to be able to have a big diesel 'rig' truck be able to be loaded in Long Beach from ship containers, drive to the rail terminal, and drive right onto the high speed train car and be secured. Then the train will carry the entire truck to Phoenix rail central. The truck will then be driven off the train (by a local driver) and the contents be delivered to their local destinations."

      You just described a bad version of a good old i

  • by TheNetAvenger (624455) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:52PM (#24991337)

    1995 Called... San Diego Anyone?

    The Carpool lanes in San Diego I15 had magnets put in them over 10 years ago and fully autonomous GM cars navigated the roads effortlessly.

    This was almost 15 freaking yeats ago...

    Anyone so NOT impressed by this?

    • by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2008 @01:24PM (#24991621) Homepage Journal

      Yup, and as early as 2002 Siemens was demonstrating a bus in Arlington, Virginia that uses the same principle. It was basically a track-less tram with a driver override. The vehicle (which btw, was amazing) drove by itself and auto-detected its stops, red lights, hazards, but it had a driver. If the driver touched the controls it would override the automatic operationg.

    • I'm not impressed, but it's not because it was first done in 1995, but because this was actually first started in the late 50's. (I'm too lazy to find source, but tests dating back to 70's aren't hard to find)

      Cars following magnets... not at all impressive (anymore). Show me an AI that can pass the school of fish test [templetons.com] and then I'll be impressed.
  • by txoof (553270) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @12:54PM (#24991363) Homepage

    Yeah, but can its new-fangled computer brain defy the laws of physics and jump the bus over an incomplete highway overpass at 70 mph? I didn't think so. Until we can make an artificial replacement for Keanu Reeves, I won't trust it. It's gotta be able to say, "I know kung-fu" too.

  • For a vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour, data from 27 meters (88 feet) of roadway can be read and processed in 1 second.

    Well I would hope so, since 88 feet is the distance it travels in 1 second at 60 MPH. Otherwise it would be processing the roadway behind it. Perhaps they should say ... data from 27 meters (88 feet) of roadway must be read and processed in 1 second.

  • The embedded magnets make this a non-event. Vehivles guided by ground embedded markes have been in uuse for decades.

  • It will not take long for someone to lay down enough magnets to move the bus to where they want it to go — such as a neighbor's pool...

  • Apart from guiding the bus, the system will also stop your change from rolling too far..

  • First, this is basically Demo '97 [berkeley.edu] technology. The CALTRANS PATH people have been fooling around with this for years. I saw this around 1990 or so up at the CALTRANS Richmond test facility. Automated lane following was demonstrated in 1959 by General Motors with Firebird III [wikipedia.org].

    About the only justification for this is to improve stop accuracy at bus stops so the bus can get close to the curb without scraping the tires. A bit of automated parking assistance there might be helpful. A neat trick would be to

  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @01:50PM (#24991847)

    The human driver performs many critical tasks other than steering. Braking for vehicles or pedestrians moving into its path, making judgments about pulling over to the curb among illegally parked vehicles, arguing with fare cheats, crackheads and the homeless, etc.

    Its not likely that these other requirements for a driver's presence will be eliminated any time soon. Meanwhile, keeping the driver in charge of steering keeps him paying attention to road conditions. Note how many pilots take naps while on autopilot (both at the same time, sadly).

    The systems in which an automated steering system could work safely are essentially identical to elevated railways, monorails, or subways. In other words, grade separated transit systems.

  • by Akir (878284)
    Las Vegas has had an automated bus line for a few years now. It's called the MAX [wikipedia.org] and it's actually on the way of becoming obsolete, being replaced with the ACE [rtcsnv.com] line, which is supposed to connect all the cities in Greater Las Vegas. (The RTC has removed their page on MAX already)
    However, the MAX and ACE lines use optical technology, meaning they only need a painted line to operate. It's kinda cool, riding in a bus that follows a line just like those robot kits you give to kids.
    (Here's to hoping we've PWN
  • The concept of automated driving actually was demonstrated as early as the 1950's using magnets in the road and proximity sensors for other cars. Obviously early technology would not have been capable of reacting to situations as it was not really computerized but worked with relays and direct feedback and such.

    Alternate systems have been demonstrated that don't need magnets and can optically sense the lines in the road and so on. DARPA has also shown various automated driving systems over the years,
  • ... when somebody parks in front of the bus stop? Is the bus smart enough not to collide with an illegally-parked car?
  • the system is robust enough to withstand a wide range of operating conditions, including rain or snow

    So....magnets placed in the road and sensors in the bus are sensitive enough to compensate for an 8" difference in vertical distance? Riiiight.
    Not saying this is totally useless, but test in a northeast winter before you spout off about 'snow'.
  • ...didn't the bus test drive the researchers?

  • by Dr. Tom (23206)
    The system can process 27 meters in 1 second? Not good enough!! 60 miles per hour IS 27 meters per second. A robust real time control system needs to be at least twice as fast as this.

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