Manchester’s bumper project

Engineers at The University of Manchester have developed an extendable car bumper that could help speed along the arrival of computer-controlled motorways.



They described the system in a paper presented at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress and Exhibition, winning the authors, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the Best Scientific Paper award.



Automated Highway Systems (AHS) and Co-operative Vehicle Highway Systems (CVHS) have been under development for many decades. CVHS promotes a vision that vehicles would not be independently driven, but regulated and controlled via information beamed from transmitters at the side of the road. Cars would also communicate and co-operate with the vehicles around them to ensure a safe and fast journey for everyone.



With the use of UK motorway space estimated to be as little as five per cent, the grouping or ‘platooning’ of cars is seen as one way to increase capacity and reduce congestion. As computer-controlled vehicles would be able to travel much closer together, it would mean less fuel consumption due to a reduction in aerodynamic drag.



The University of Manchester academics note that concerns over legal and liability issues, in the event of failure, seem to have held back development.



The system proposed by the University of Manchester team would use a ‘bridging damper’ in the event of a signal failure. This would be an intelligent bumper, which would extend to touch the car in front, should the main communication system break down.



Computer simulations have indicated that a group of at least 20 cars could continue to travel safely and smoothly in the event of a main system failure, by detecting the status of the car immediately in front through their extended bumpers. Information on the other cars in the group would not be necessary.



The authors of the paper have investigated the use of a system that would see bumpers adjust to compensate for varying road conditions such as uphill and downhill stretches.



Although much of the research has been conducted using computer simulations, the research team have developed a small simplified pneumatic version of the damper device for further investigation. The team also proposes that the bridging damper could be used on guided bus and guided taxi systems.



The researchers note that further research is needed into the technological, social, policy, psychological and economic aspects of so-called ‘contact convoy’ systems.