Autonomous Vehicle Begins Drive From Italy To China

from the watch-out-on-the-roads... dept

It’s been nearly five years since the famous DARPA “Grand Challenge” showed off some successful autonomous vehicles traveling 132 miles without a driver (this was a year after a similar attempt ended with no vehicles making it). The DARPA Urban Challenge followed, and not surprisingly, there’s still plenty of research going on in the space. Slashdot points us to the news that two autonomous vehicles are now attempting to drive from Italy to China over the course of the next three months.

It’s not quite the same as the Grand Challenge situation (which had no one in the car, and no lead vehicles or anything like that). In this case, each autonomous vehicle will be following a “lead van.” Also, each of the autonomous vehicles will have a “driver” sitting in the driver’s seat who is supposed to be able to quickly take over the vehicle should anything go wrong (which sounds like it might be a tougher job than you might imagine, as I would imagine boredom sets in pretty quickly). However, it will also involve real roads with real traffic. In other news, governments between Italy and China are recommending drivers stay off major roads for the next three months…

That said, the folks behind this project admit that “failure is part of the plan.” They fully expect problems to arise, and part of the idea is to figure out where those failure points are, so they can work on correcting them. In fact, in a “test drive” before the caravan left, they already experienced problems when a car got between the lead van and the autonomous vehicle in a traffic circle.

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Comments on “Autonomous Vehicle Begins Drive From Italy To China”

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Beta (profile) says:

solving the wrong problem

Apart from the laudable drive to solve a technically difficult problem for its own sake, this seems to me like a publicity stunt. The use of lead cars makes it pretty pointless as a technical achievement, they could gather the same data in a series of small road trials, and they don’t seem interested in trying to make their system fail, which indicates that his is a demonstration, not an experiment or test.

Driving over any terrain is a difficult task. Driving a vehicle that needs a road requires recognition, discrimination, judgment. Driving in traffic requires social instincts, the ability to make reasonably accurate guesses about what other drivers will do. Driving in a world where a wind-blown plastic bag is not very important but a running child must be avoided at all costs requires something close to animal intelligence.

If they really wanted to develop autonomous vehicles, they’d do it the smart way: start with the rovers they’re designing for Mars, the dumb insectoid robots that can scuttle over anything. Then graduate to something that can exploit roads (and still doesn’t care about running into things0. Then introduce random moving obstacles of all shapes, sizes and colors, including other robots, and teach the robots not to collide, maybe even to self-organize into efficient traffic patterns…. Operating on the same roads as human beings is a long way down the list.

eirlysR (profile) says:

I already read that news. And being so fond of car and car issues I read that there is a lot of incentive to keep track of which automobiles thieves like for making off with more than others. The list of probably the most popular stolen cars, or most regularly stolen autos, is tracked by several sources, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS just released the newest list of stolen vehicles for the year. Thieves would not be at all surprised at what is on the list.

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