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Anti-Collision Cars
April 1952 Radio-Electronics

April 1952 Radio-Electronics

April 1952 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Anti-Collision Cars, April 1952 Radio-Electronics - RF CafeExperiments with self-driving cars has been going on since the 1920s according to the Wikipedia entry, with real trials beginning in the 1950s. This editorial entitled "Anti-Collision Cars," by Hugo Gernsback, appeared in a 1952 of his Radio-Electronics magazine. He points to his editorial in a 1935 issue addressing the same subject. Self-driving is of course different from anti-collision, but some of the same sensor and guidance system principles are common to both concepts. Mr. Gernsback's scheme involves not just detection of a potential collision scenario, but also a system that can automatically attempt to guide the car to a safe condition. Many new cars have some form of sensing system to alert the driver to the presence of nearby obstacles. I picked up a 2021 Hyundia Elantra rental car- not a high-end model - a couple days ago (a dope backed into our 2011 Jeep Patriot), and even it has areas in the side view mirrors that illuminate when a car approaches closely. It also has a rear view backup camera and other proximity detectors. All those bells and whistles are nice, but the dude who hit me had all that and more in his high end Chevy Silverado 3500 HD truck when he accelerated at an unbelievable rate out of a parking spot in a large parking lot and smashed into the Patriot's left front fender. He even admitted to both me and the cop that he never even looked. There was ice and snow in the aisle between parking spaces, so there was no way I could have stopped in time. The irony and sadness of the situation was that we had just left the Dunn Tire (Erie, PA) where we had a slow leak fixed in the very wheel that got whacked by the truck. It was less than a quarter mile from where we got rammed.

... Electronically-controlled, collision-proof cars are feasible today ...

By Hugo Gernsback

In the U.S. in 1950, over 35,000 people were killed and some 1,200,000 were injured in automobile accidents. This appalling situation - the killing and injuring of more of our people than in a major shooting war of a similar period - has become the grave concern of every auto maker, just as it has been the concern of society at large.

Benson Ford, vice-president of Ford Motor Co., on October 1, 1951, in a talk before the Detroit section of the Society of Automotive Engineers, called for "better automobile safety devices, including an electronic control that would apply brakes when collision is imminent."

Sixteen years ago, in the June, 1935, issue of Radio-Craft, in an editorial entitled "Auto-Radio Developments," I stated on the identical subject:

"By means of photoelectric cells and capacitance-effect devices it should not be a difficult problem for radio engineers, in conjunction with automobile technicians, to evolve ways and means to make automobiles safer - far safer than they are today. To mention just a few ideas on the subject, all of which are possible even today:

"Many accidents are caused today by cars colliding, by one car running into another, by one car being bumped in the rear by another, etc. Authorities have long agreed that cars, even when stopping, should not come closer than two or three feet of each other. If a capacitive device were installed on the front fenders of all cars, then as soon as a body having a large capacitance (such as an automobile, truck, pedestrian) came within say two feet of it, a relay would automatically cause the brakes to be applied. This would obviate a great many collisions, and while it would not stop all of them, it would certainly minimize their effects. It is better to stop a car suddenly, without hitting another car, even if slight injuries result, than to have a serious collision, killing the driver or passengers outright when the cars crash or having them die in fire which often breaks out. While it is true that such an automatic capacitance-operated device would not be very effective when a car going at 40 miles an hour suddenly came within two feet of a pedestrian, the chances are that the damage done might not be as great as if the progress of the car had not been halted. It is one thing to strike a human being with a car going 40 miles an hour and quite a different thing if the car strikes at a speed of 8 or 10 miles an hour. The difference may be one of life or death to the person struck."

Over one million people have been killed by automobiles in the United States to date. 35,000 were killed in the U. S. in 1950 - more than this number in 1951. Much of this slaughter will cease when the car makers will adopt electronically operated anti-collision devices as explained here. They are feasible now and we are certain to have them soon.

Sixteen years ago, electronic science perhaps was not sufficiently advanced to cope with the problem as effectively as we can today, but now there is no valid reason for not equipping cars with anti-collision electronic devices, if auto makers sincerely demand them.

I can visualize an electronic system which embodies a combination of a simplified, special radar plus if capacitance-effect device - both acting together. Such a system should give us a greater margin of safety to prevent or minify collisions.

True, such improved cars will be more expensive than present-day ones, but it is a certainty that the public will want such safety-equipped cars - at almost any price.

Moreover, the first automobile manufacturer to pioneer in the electronic anti-collision device will create a worldwide sensation. Other manufacturers will then have to follow suit if they wish to compete.

It must be realized that such an anti-collision device will never prevent every type of collision.

Side-swipes, oblique collisions, and other unusual types of auto accidents, it is true, are much more difficult to prevent, although even these are not impossible to avert in the future, with more advanced and refined electronic devices.

With constantly increasing car speeds, no human can be trusted always to stop a car quickly enough to avoid accident. Human reactions are too slow. With a car moving at 65 m.p.h. - let us picture a very common situation:

From a shrubbery-obscured side street another car moves across the main road. The driver of the first car going 65 miles sees the other car 75 feet away. But it takes about 3/4 of a second before he can apply the brakes.* In that time his car has traveled 177 1/2 feet. Then the car's momentum will cause it to cover, say at least 100 feet before it can be brought to a dead stop. Thus the first car will have traveled 177 1/2 feet from the moment it sighted the second car. Result - unless both cars swerve - a bad crash!

Why will an electronic control be better in such a situation than the driver? The answer is that human reactions are not instantaneous; in emergency the driver rarely has sufficient time to put on his brakes - but electronics can do it instantly when the car gets in the danger zone. True, not all collisions will be prevented, but the force of the impact will be greatly reduced. It will be the difference between death and injury.

An important point too, is the fact that when electronic anti-collision once is in universal use, both colliding cars are braked simultaneously - an invaluable safety measure in cars moving into a head-on crash.

The electronic anti-collision device need not be very large nor cumbersome, perhaps not much larger than a medium table radio. It will have a rudimentary radio brain that will also make certain decisions as to when and where not to put on the brakes. For instance: when another car travels in the same direction in close city traffic and comes within 6 inches of the anti-collision-equipped car; or when you wish to park your car in the street. The electronic device can be designed to differentiate between such situations and those involving danger.

* According to research at N. Y. University Center of Safety Education.



Posted March 23, 2022

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1996 - 2024


Kirt Blattenberger,


RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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