Scientists Tout Driverless Model Car As Prototype For Real Thing - InformationWeek

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3/26/2007
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Scientists Tout Driverless Model Car As Prototype For Real Thing

Developers plan to develop a prototype of an autonomous driverless vehicle to help encourage the creation of smart cars; they plan to test the car on a racetrack this summer.

Computer scientists at the University of Essex want to build a model driverless car as a prototype for the real thing.

The U.K. developers announced plans last week to develop an autonomous vehicle prototype to help encourage the creation of smart cars. They plan to test the car on a racetrack this summer. In 2008, an international competition will take place in Hong Kong during the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' World Congress on Computational Intelligence.

Although engineers and computer scientists have built autonomous vehicles to advance technologies for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Simon Lucas, an Essex professor and researcher leading the project, said that he believes this is the first time anyone has developed a completely autonomous model car.

"This project will push computational intelligence methods to their limits, and beyond," he said in a prepared statement. "Similar principles have been applied to full-size cars in the past -- for instance, in the DARPA Challenge to navigate across the Mojave Desert -- but the cost implications of developing the technology using real cars means it just isn't viable for researchers. By using model cars, we will be able to investigate the possibilities of the technology far easier and more cheaply."

Developers will use a standard remote-control model car, mount a PC on the chassis, and attach a video camera and sensors. They will write software to allow the car to recognize obstacles and make tactical decisions as it drives itself around a racetrack. Lucas said the car should be able to adapt to opponents and "outwit" them.

"We envisage that the technology needed to develop our prototype could pave the way for a future where driverless cars are a reality," he said. "It is entirely possible that in the next 15 years we could see driverless cars being used in cities around the world, probably for specific transportation needs such as taxis or delivery vehicles. The potential real-world applications of the computer vision technology that we will develop are endless."

The IEEE Computational Intelligence Society is funding the project.

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