Autonomous Cars Take Marco Polo Journey to China

A team of autonomous cars are making their way from Europe to China to be showcased at the World Expo, traveling a 13,000-kilometer span of roadways. The car’s sensory equipment is being tested by researchers from the Italy’s University of Parma Vislab, and so far everything has been good on the journey. Many of the mistakes made are due to human error and not due to the autonomous automobiles, a positive sign of things to come from robotics driving technology.

According to the project lead, Alberto Broggi, “We were trapped in customs for one long day. We had a small accident — well, two small accidents, caused by human error. As far as the technology is concerned, everything has been smooth. We are very happy.”

The first accident occurred because one team of engineers had turned off the sensory mechanisms on the car, but didn’t switch off the automatic driving controls, which essentially gave the cars a way to drive and steer but no sense of what was happening around it. The second accident happened when one of the batteries of the car needed to be charged on a tow truck, and the car was hit by another truck. So far the group is halfway to China to be shown off at the October 28 World Exposition, logging a total of 1,400 miles of the 2,500-mile journey. The goal is to reach 8,000 total miles, or 13,000 kilometers of autonomous driving.

The journey did hit a glitch in Moscow, where autonomous control had to be surrounded for manned control. Because autonomous vehicles are usually driven in pairs, following a lead manned van to direct signals, it was difficult to maintain this signal in Russia where erratic drivers had cut in between manned and unmanned vehicles, disrupting the signal and communications between the radios.

“It was impossible. In crowded areas, if no one is respecting the rules, there is no way to navigate. The only thing you can do is avoid hitting someone,” according to Broggi. In the future, Broggi says, autonomous vehicles will re-write the driving rules to match the environment. [via Yahoo News]

This article was filed in Homepage > Transportation.
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