Driver not included

Driverless VW Passat

STANFORDS HOPE: The robot car named Junior passed the first of many city test yesterday and qualified for Urban Challenge this autumn. Google is one of many companies sponsoring “Junior”. The newly released Street View, which allows Google Earth-users to look around in the streets, is partly based on the technology developed at Standford, that were used in their previous robot car “Stanley”.

Yesterday, in California (USA) The New York Times released an article showing an autonomous ground vehicle (a car) able to navigate through various traffic situations without help.

Thursday’s test was on an artificial course about the size of a small city block, and included a simulation of a four-way intersection. The robot car, “Junior”, was limited to a speed of no more than 15 miles an hour by agency officials. It was required to pass four tests, including stopping at an intersection and waiting for other vehicles before proceeding.

Junior stumbled once, when a misplaced traffic cone forced the vehicle to stop and wait for its human controllers. After completing all of the required tests, the vehicle, which bristled with eight laser range finders, was able to ace the failed test of passing a stationary car immediately after an intersection.

What is an autonomous ground vehicle?

An autonomous ground vehicle is a vehicle that navigates and drives entirely on its own with no human driver and no remote control. Through the use of various sensors and positioning systems, the vehicle determines all the characteristics of its environment required to enable it to carry out the task it has been assigned.

Why develop autonomous vehicles?

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, Public Law 106-398, Congress mandated in Section 220 that “It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that… by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles are unmanned.” DARPA conducts the Urban Challenge program in support of this Congressional mandate. Every “dull, dirty, or dangerous” task that can be carried out using a machine instead of a human protects our warfighters and allows valuable human resources to be used more effectively.

The past and the future

Last year Standford’s own “Stanley” harvested glory and fame by winning the 280 kilometer long Grand Challenge Nevada desert race in 6 hours and 53 minutes, grabbing the world record for driverless cars.

This year the bar is raised and the cars are facing numerous challenges from a city environment, including stopping at intersections to make way for passing cars.

An advanced GPS-system, laser sensors and 6 video cameras operates as the cars eyes and gathers information about the surroundings. The “brain” and steering mechanisms are located to the trunk consisting of a couple of servers equipped with quadruple-core processors.

53 teams enter the competition but only 20 will be allowed to compete this autumn. Compared to last year the challenge moves from not only being able to “see” the surroundings but also to “understand” them.

Are we being replaced any day soon?

The car manufacturers has entered the robot scene for several years already but I hope it still takes some time before we’re all passengers. Or maybe it would benefit mankind to let the structured computer logic control the traffic scene?

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