Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Junior - the self-driving car

Meet Junior, the self-driving car that might just be the most sophisticated road-going robot in the world.

vw Junior self-driving carJunior is Stanford Racing Team's entry in the 2007 Urban Challenge, the follow-up to 2005's Grand Challenge.

The race requires robot cars to navigate a simulated urban environment, avoiding other cars and negotiating right-of-way at junctions.

That's why Junior is so advanced. Mechanically it's a stock VW Passat estate, but the steering, throttle and brakes are all modified to be completely computer controllable.

Because Junior has to be aware of fast-moving objects in every direction, it is fitted with a sophisticated range-finding laser array that provides a 360-degree three-dimensional view of the surrounding area.

Junior can use this information, and that of six on-board video cameras, to gain a cohesive understanding of the environment and learn to improve its driving.

All very clever, but what does it mean for the rest of us?

Well, while Junior's technologies are currently unproven and prohibitively expensive for us common road users, similar technologies can already be seen filtering down to production cars in the shape of adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assist.

And the benefits of self-driving vehicles are obvious in car-bomb prone war zones such as Iraq, which explains why the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sponsoring the Urban Challenge.

The race itself takes place on November 3 this year, with a $2 million prize for the winners. Two million dollars? Time for TG to crack open the welding kit and wire cutters...

© Source: article on topgear
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