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Latest new on the Warp experimental parallel processing computer being developed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh – the one that has been programmed to steer a car around obstacles – is that it is shortly to go on trial steering a van at up to 35 mph. By calculating distances and directions based on video input from cameras attached to the front of the vehicle, the computer can make decisions about whether to increase or decrease speed and which way to turn to avoid obstacles. The computer, called Warp, short for warp speed, the term popularised in Star Trek, gets its nickname not from the speed at which it has so far travelled, about one mile per hour, but from the speed at which it calculates. According to professor H T Kung at Carnegie Mellon, the computer makes more than 100m calculations per second. The Warp computer uses nothing more daunting than 10 Weitek floating-point processors working in parallel to achieve the performance. And although the initial testing has been in the area of vehicular control – the Pentagon is extremely keen on having a new generation of tanks and other vehicles that can look after themselves without the presence of a human in the kinds of hostile environment that would follow use of battlefield nuclear weapons, and is paying for the $10m project – the computer has shown better than expected test results in the areas of signal processing and magnetic retina imaging. In addition to applying the Warp to Department of Defense projects, Kung said he hopes to develop vehicular assistance applications for handicapped drivers. Only two prototypes of the Warp have been built so far but General Electric has signed a contract for the manufacture of nine more Warps.

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