Back To The Future
Date: Thursday, October 23 @ 07:01:14 UTC
In the movie "Back to the Future", nutty professor Dr. Emmett Brown turned a DeLorean sports car into a flying time machine. Chris Gerdes did Brown one better. When the real-life Stanford professor decided to rig a car with global positioning system antennae so the vehicle could steer itself, he asked General Motors to donate a Corvette.
"I had to practice for two weeks so I could say it with a straight face", said Gerdes, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering who helped design control systems for Daimler-Benz before coming to Stanford University in 1998. Gerdes got his Vette, and he's loaded it with a passel of special hardware that he says could -- theoretically, anyway -- cut highway fatalities by 40 percent by making it impossible for drivers to overcorrect skids or drift into neighboring lanes.
Gerdes isn't the only Stanford engineer putting a weird-science twist on GPS, which uses a network of orbiting satellites to pinpoint positions on Earth. Electrical-engineering Professor Per Enge is using the technology to design jets that can land themselves -- even on a pitching aircraft carrier deck.