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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Self-Driving Cars Offer Interesting Transportation Possibilities Caroline Storm Westenhover

I have been learning an overwhelming amount of information because of my internship in Washington DC. Not the least is how to get around DC. Living, or at least being temporarily located in DC, is that weird state where I am not really settled down in an area but also not on vacation. I will call it residing.

According to some published studies, the area has the 10th worst traffic in the U.S. and the longest average commute in the US. I have given extensive thought to the social ramifications of self-driving cars. I have thought about this many times before, but now it is personal. The technology used in self-driving cars is fascinating, but I want to talk about the implications.

One of the impacts I am interested in is having hard and fast data on what human travel patterns look like exactly. I have two good options for commuting here. I have taken buses that meander around neighborhoods. I also have ridden in a stranger’s car every day (slugging). Slugging takes the least amount of time. This is because there is a set list of places to go and they do not make stops in between.

It makes me think about this idea of no car ownership. It is time for the individual to have to stop before every other person’s stop before their own. However if you could gather data on everyone’s travel patterns then the system could be optimized. Switching lots could be placed based on the number of people passing by point X going to point Y.

Let’s say there are 2000 people working at Corporation X’s DC branch and, for the sake of simplicity, they live evenly in distributed radials.

A car needs 100 people to be passing a certain spot on the same major road every half hour for it to make sense to consistently fill cars with six people with a wait time of no more than five minutes. Some 70% of the people commute at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. so you have 1400 workers driving in around the same time with the same end point. It is not until you get to the third circle that you are getting enough people joining the major highway (radial line) for the car to consider it a viable switching point. Up until that point, cars people will order individual cars to take them to that switching point.

The great thing about self-driving cars is they could do this as a function of both the start location and the end location. You take a separate car to a switching lot where you get in a car with your near neighbors. This car takes you out of the suburbs to the edge of the city where you get in a car with your co-workers and go to your job. All the while getting work done, or reading the most recent bestseller.



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My name is Caroline Storm Westenhover. I am a Senior Electrical Engineering student at the University of Texas at Arlington. I am the third of seven children. I enjoy collecting ideas and theories and most enjoy when they come together to present a bigger picture as a whole. Perhaps that is why I like physics and engineering.  My biggest dream is to become an astronaut.


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