Sunday, March 16, 2008

Out of Control

Great article from The Economist discussing the fact Formula 1 drivers will no longer have digital tech to help them do Nintendo type driving...

"Because of the extraordinary amount of downforce created by the inverted wings at the front and back of an F1 car, cornering forces of 4g (ie, four times the car’s own weight) are common. On really fast circuits like Suzuka in Japan, drivers have to fight lateral forces of up to 6g. To survive, most drivers have huge neck muscles to prevent their heads from lolling over.

But what happens if a driver miscalculates and enters a bend too fast, or has to make a sudden manoeuvre to avoid hitting another car? With the tyres strained to the limit by the crushing downwards and sideways forces, the molecular film of rubber clinging to the road at a tyre’s contact point can suddenly snap and send the car spinning violently off the circuit.

In recent years, that rarely happened for two reasons. First, a nifty electronic device sensed when the tyre on any particular wheel was beginning to lose traction, whether because the driver went into a bend too quickly or he tramped too heavily on the gas coming out. Either way, the traction-control system automatically applied the brakes on the spinning wheels for a fraction of a second, slowing things down enough for the tyres to regain traction.

Second, another electronic gubbins automatically stepped in when the driver started braking hard to let the engine’s compression strokes mop up much of the car’s kinetic energy and so scrub off speed rapidly. With these two electronic aids working in tandem, drivers could literally stand on their brakes when entering a bend and then nail the throttle on the way out—without having to worry about wheelspin or skidding out of control."

If this doesn't hold one's attention, the following examples of computer controlled systems will as none of them can be run without tech due to horrible handling characteristics.

F117 Nighthawk fly by wire fighter, due to be retired this year, would drop like a stone without computer assist.
B2 Bomber another fly by wire number, would follow the same trajectory as the F117.
Space Shuttle Without digital, "Astronauts say it flies like a “brick sh--house”, but a surprisingly controllable one for all that. With no engines to aid its approach on re-entry, the spacecraft must be stable enough to glide down through the atmosphere and yet controllable enough to precisely follow a trajectory to make a perfect landing, with no chance of ever going round again should the pilot mess up.

Many years ago, your correspondent tried in vain to land the Shuttle manually (albeit using a simulator rather than the real thing) at Cape Canaveral, only to crash each time in the Atlantic near the Azores. He was convinced the vehicle had nowhere near enough rudder power to prevent it from rolling out of control.

Then the NASA technicians switched on the control system and simulated a hurricane in the flight path for good measure. Needless to say, the Shuttle made a perfect landing, with only the minimum of input from its chastened pilot. On Sunday, those F1 drivers are in for quite a surprise."

When viewed in this light, could Michael Schumacher beat Juan Fangio in a race if both were at their prime running cars without digital assist?

Good question eh?
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