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Today is Sunday, September 23, 2018

Natural Collision Avoidance Ability

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Lessons from other realms bring closer the evolution and the dawn of the robotic ship epoch. Such dreams have been talked about during bygone years. They are likely to take a long time in reaching the horizon or, perhaps not. They provide an answer to the dreams of owners. No more wage bills, no more catering costs, no more personal injury claims, no more manning crisis, no “MARPOLised” garbage or sewage; continue on to a more profitable and headache free life. With such a utopia on offer, it is surprising that more effort is not being made into the development of robotic leviathans. May be this will gain more impetus with developments in the car industry.

The land lubbers are getting there! Nissan, inspired by nature, has revealed its EPORO (EPisode O (Zero) RObot). A car that uses advanced technology to avoid bumping into others of its ilk. Nissan first turned to nature with its BR23C robot car. The humble bumble bee, which according to man’s rules should not even be able to fly, provided the lessons. With the insight gained, the BR23C can navigate its way through challenging terrain detecting obstructions and avoiding them. Something that man, in his machines, thus far is yet to do on land, at sea, and in the air.

Mother Nature has provided further inspiration -- this time, from the realm of King Neptune. After studying schools of fish, EPORO was born or rather spawned. The technology developed will be unveiled on October 6 at CEATEC JAPAN 2009 for all to marvel at. A shoal of six EPOROs will be put through their paces over an obstacle course to show off their skills by not so much as kissing each other. Like their counterpart fish, they will all travel in the same direction which may be something of an advantage.

However, unlike fish, they cannot move up or down thus giving the fish more options. But, then again, this means more decision taking and greater control being exercised in manoeuvring. Apparently, fish schools have three basic approaches -- open water formation, narrow for restricted and obstacle avoidance to take them past obstructions. Much the same as man has for his machines.

The bumble bee BR23C inspired concept moves on its own rather than using the herd instinct technology of the EPRO. In nature, there are less constraints to moving around than are placed on the trusty family car. The car is confined to man-made special paths to tread along. Ships have more leeway except perhaps in traffic routing zones, but follow the rules and it works. Planes also have leeway plus some latitude. It should therefore follow the cybernetic control of cars which is more difficult to perfect than that of “cybernautic” management of ships. Continuing on, is cyberaeronautic control easiest to realise? After all, planes can move from side to side, and up and down much like fish and bees can and do in their zero-accident world.

The reality is that the poor unwary bumble bee has not yet evolved and more likely never will to dodge speeding windscreens against which they often meet sudden death. As for fish, they are equally unaware of the cavernous fishing nets that have greedily swallowed them up for centuries. This has brought many of their species to the point of extinction, inspiring quota fishing - only to help them continue to be a viable food source for mankind.

It begs asking why it took bumble bees and fish to create such inspiration. Would studying the most dominant creatures in nature, interacting face to face with each other in environments created by them, not be more meaningful? And thus, produce better research results? Think of the throngs that in their myriads daily transit restricted areas, proceeding every which way but one, during peak travel times throughout the world. They hardly bump into each other. If they do, it is mainly because they are distracted by some gizmo of their own creation that they are playing with. Placing men in machines takes away direct eyeball to eyeball contact -- thus, removing a valuable communication feature and with it their own natural ability to avoid prangs. Can we evolve to overcome this defect that our own inventiveness has created?

Jim Nicoll

For more on EPORO please visit http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/NEWS/2009/_STORY/091001-01-e.html

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