Driving a Safer and Greener Future

Autonomous cars could benefit our health and our planet, but perfecting the systems that will make them run is a titanic challenge.

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If you’ve bought a new car recently, or even if you’ve seen any car commercials lately, you’ve probably noticed the increasing number of safety features available: cars now brake automatically if they sense an obstacle, they can essentially park themselves, and your car will beep if you’re crossing your lane boundary.

These types of features have reduced single vehicle accidents by 25% already, but they all rely on on-board software that tells the car what to do.

“The modern vehicle… is more of a software platform”, says Professor John McPhee, a mechanical engineer at the University of Waterloo. “For a fully automated vehicle, you’re going to have 200 to 300 million lines of software code… that’s more than a Boeing 777.”

McPhee’s research is focused on dynamics and control to make sure these many lines of code function reliably.

Vehicle automation is also closely related to green vehicle technology. On-board computers can collect data from the road and other cars in real time, telling the vehicle when to turn the engine off, when to leave it on, and when to regenerate energy from braking. All of these things can help reduce emissions in the most efficient way possible.

“Fully autonomous cars are going to have huge impacts (on the) health of Canadians.”

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John McPhee received his degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Acadia University, the Technical University of Nova Scotia, and the University of Waterloo, Canada.  He worked at the Université de Liège, Belgium, and Queen’s University, Canada, before taking a faculty position in 1992 at Waterloo.

Dr. McPhee pioneered the use of linear graph theory to model multi-domain dynamic systems, and his research algorithms have been commercialized by Maplesoft and are a core part of the MapleSim engineering package, which is used by thousands of engineers and researchers at Toyota, NASA, General Motors, Harley Davidson, and many others.

Dr. McPhee is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Engineering Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineers.  In 2014, he received the prestigious NSERC Synergy Award from the Governor-General of Canada.