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Look, Ma! No hands!

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Karen A. Newman

I watch in amazement as the woman in the television commercial pushes a button on her dashboard and sits back, gleeful, while her car parks all by itself. And not a simple diagonal parking job, mind you, but the hair-raising parallel kind. The kind we sweated over in driver’s ed. It looks as if parallel parking, the motorist’s right of passage, will soon take its place in the museum of skills we no longer need because some cool technology can do it – better – for us.

It seems that autonomous driving – the stuff of dreams and Saturday morning cartoons – is closer to reality in the form of parking assist, and what’s driving continuing research and development goes beyond making parking easier for the average driver. One good reason for parking assist is to speed up the parallel parking process to keep traffic moving on congested city streets. Cars that drive themselves, especially ones that can make decisions based on what’s going on around them, can improve safety, while the primary goal of the DARPA Grand Challenge, a prize competition, is to fund research to develop autonomous vehicle technology that will keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

Photonics Spectra contributing editor Gary Boas reports on a number of developing technologies that are making autonomous vehicles a reality in “On the Road with Junior: A tale of optics and driverless cars,” beginning on page 34.

With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still fresh in our minds, and likely to be making news for years to come, two additional features in this issue present technologies with implications for the oil and gas industry and beyond.

Author Alana Achterkirchen points out how recent events in the Gulf underscore the critical importance of nondestructive testing of oil and gas field equipment in her article “CMOS X-ray Imaging Shores Up Oil and Gas Operations,” beginning on page 38. Digital x-ray imaging offers more than increased efficiency and reduced costs, with benefits including simplified database cataloging and improved customer and supplier communications, according to Achterkirchen.

Oil and gas exploration benefits from fiber optic sensing as well, according to authors Saeed Rehman and Lars Norin in their article “Specialty Optical Fibers for Harsh Environments,” starting on page 43. The authors explain that optical fiber-based sensing instrumentation has been demonstrated to be especially attractive for the measurement of a wide variety of physical and chemical parameters.

Be sure to check out related news and features on our website,, and contact me with your comments at [email protected].

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2010
Alana AchterkirchenCMOSCMOS X-ray ImagingCommunicationsdarpa grand challengedefensediagonal parkingDigital x-ray imagingEditorialGary Boasimagingnondestructive testingparallelPhotonics SpectraResearch & Technologyvehicle technology

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