Budding engineers at Trinity College Dublin today presented the prototype autonomous vehicle technologies of the future at a special showcase, having spent the last year designing solutions to a number of challenges facing designers in this emerging field.
The engineers were challenged with focusing on one specific design problem and asked to develop concept solutions and physical prototypes capable of demonstrating the features of their concept. Working in teams, they focused on sub-themes including sports cars, emergency response vehicles, public transport options, and aircraft logistics.
Among the prototype designs are team AMP's sports car that grants unrestricted access (making it easy for disabled people to ‘drive’); team Althea's ambulance with its expandable operating chamber to enable surgery en route to hospital when accidents occur in remote locations; the Teamarbus' self-driving bus that caters to the elderly and those with mobility issues; and team Towbot's system that will allow automated push-back and aircraft movement to improve runway safety and make traffic handling more efficient.
Team AMP — sports car
Team AMP (autonomous mega car project) designed a prototype sports car that would be accessible to people living with disabilities or with reduced mobility — something of a problem for existing sports cars. To solve this problem, they designed a chair that would move to the door, and which would, in tandem with the roof and door, move to make it easy to get into the seat.
Additionally, they created non-pneumatic wheels that could perform the same job as a suspension system (allowing the suspension to be removed for extra space) and mooted the possibility of using graphene-spiked paint that would retain some electric charge as a back-up power source.
Team Althea — emergency services
Team Althea addressed the need for ambulance services to reach patients in need more quickly, in light of the 26,100 fatalities on European roads in 2015. Their prototype design is an autonomous ambulance that houses an expandable operating theatre that enables surgery to take place once a patient is inside the vehicle.
Surgery could, in theory, be performed in situ or en route to a hospital. The ambulance would wait in a location within a given catchment area that is most likely to reduce response time — based on an algorithm that predicts where this ideal position is.
Teamarbus — public transport
Teamarbus aimed to bring autonomous tech to the over 65s — noting that many elderly people feel lonely and disconnected from social groups based on their mobility and access to public transport.
Their prototype bus offers a door-to-door service, makes access easy via a lift system (which removes the difficulties associated with boarding a vehicle up a slope/ramp) and utilises a user-friendly app that can be operated by users, carers, or family members.
Team Towbot — logistics
Team Towbot designed an autonomous electric aeroplane tug, which could move aircraft around airports via push-back from boarding gates and by pulling them along connecting runways until pilots needed to start burning fuel.
Currently, jet engines burn a huge amount of fuel each year in these simple tasks, which presents a huge sustainability and financial challenge, with a cost of approximately 88 euro per plane, per flight. As such, Towbot, which has a manual over-ride and control system for use in emergency, could save airlines millions over the course of a year.
Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Trinity, Conor McGinn, has been overseeing the developments over the past 12 months.
Professor McGinn said: “The world is experiencing rapid change due to advancements in engineering and technology. One of the biggest revolutions that is currently taking place is in transport, where developments in artificial intelligence and electric motor technology is starting to fundamentally change how people and things go from A to B.”
“Over the past seven months, student teams have been developing concept solutions for how this technology can change the world for good. The excellent design concepts developed by these teams offer truly novel and innovative ways to overcome big problems in such areas as public transport, emergency response, vehicle accessibility and ground logistics.”