Your chances of getting injured or killed in a car crash may approach zero in the not-too-distant future thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who have installed a robot in vehicles as kind of the ultimate backseat driver.

When it looks like you may be heading for trouble the robot will assume control like that guy who taught driver’s ed in high school and had his own brake pedal installed on the passenger side. Except that the robot will make the adjustment without you having to go through the embarrassment of hearing him scribble a nasty note on your evaluation form.

Here’s an MIT video that explains the whole thing, starring the PhD student who calls it the “intelligent co-pilot” concept.

“The real innovation is enabling the car to share [control] with you,” says Anderson, who’s been testing the system since September. “If you want to drive, it’ll just … make sure you don’t hit anything.”

The robot only takes control away “when the driver is about to exit a safe zone,” according to a press release.

Apparently Ford has come up with a self-driving car but it’s too expensive because it’s loaded down with high-priced sensors and high-tech gadgetry. Besides, most people prefer to control their own vehicle.

The intervention concept simply relies on a camera and laser to identify hazards and react to them.

The system is so subtle the driver may not even be aware of it, according to Anderson. This puts it a giant step above, say, your mother-in-law or the cop parked in the Stop-N-Go lot when you’re whizzing by at 15 miles over the speed limit at 1 a.m.

Anderson says: “You would likely just think you’re a talented driver. You’d say, ‘Hey, I pulled this off,’ and you wouldn’t know that the car is changing things behind the scenes to make sure the vehicle remains safe, even if your inputs are not.”

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People in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. have been suffering through one of the worst heat waves in recent memory. it’s been so hot and dry in Wisconsin, my relatives tell me, stressed trees are shedding their leaves.

Growing seasons are short enough in that neck of the woods — you don’t see leaves on the trees until early May — and now 10 weeks later they’re on their way out. Well, there won’t be as much to rake in September, you could argue.

Yesterday my brother-in-law, who must have gotten hold of some old Johnny Carson DVDs, sent me an email message saying that it’s so hot in Wisconsin that the trees are whistling for the dogs. “The potatoes cook underground, so all you have to do is pull one out and add butter,” he said. And so on.

The problem is, a lot of people who live around the Great Lakes haven’t bothered with air conditioning. Because historically living near Lake Michigan or Lake Superior is like standing next to a giant Slurpee. The slightest lake breeze and the temperature drops into the 60s. But not this year.

So folks rely a lot on fans. But fans may not be the answer, according to this report: “Study finds no reliable evidence on effectiveness of electric fans in heat waves.”

Saurabh Gupta, a public health consultant in Britain, says a fan may contribute to heat gain when the temperature is above 95 degrees. That makes sense because the closer you get to body temperature, the less heat the air can take away when it’s blowing over you.

So that means people without air conditioning must fall back on the old standbys, one of course being the mall. Personally, I prefer the other option.

Right! On to the bowling alley then!

Photo via Flickr.com: “Of course you can drive, Will, but Major West suggests I tag along just to make sure everything’s OK.”

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