Stanford University’s Volkswagen Passat Junior is outfitted with LIDAR and other sensors for self-navigation. (via Stanford)
Believe it or not, autonomous vehicles were being experimented with in the 1920’s, underwent promising advancements in the 50’s and actually became a reality in the 80’s with Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab (1984) and Mercedes-Benz’s EUREKA Prometheus Project (1987). Fast-forward a couple of decades and it’s clear to see that autonomous vehicles have come a long way in their self-driving capabilities. Listed are some of the more well-known vehicles and some you may not have heard about.
First on the list (in no particular order) comes from Stanford University’s Racing Team in conjunction with Volkswagen with their Passat Junior. The vehicle was initially designed to compete in DARPAs’ Urban Challenge a decade ago (and won) and has since undergone a few upgrades. The original featured no less than 5 LIDAR sensors for navigation, which have since been reduced to 3. The Junior 3 (third revision) also sports 3 Bosch LRR2 (Long Range Radar) mounted on the front of the vehicle, which provides positional data for the vehicle to maneuver. Other guidance data is provided by onboard GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes, which provides an internal guidance system, allowing the vehicle to do everything from obstacle avoidance to self-parking.
The Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept vehicle was designed to combine autonomous driving with luxury. (via Mercedes-Benz)
When it comes to Mercedes-Benz, we tend to think of luxury, even when it comes to being autonomous. The prominent German automaker has entered the AV (autonomous vehicle) fray with their F 015 concept car, which has a sleek, silvery futuristic design without all the sensor racks that most others feature. Sure, it’s a concept car but there are existing prototypes that even at this point look incredible.
The vehicle is outfitted with hidden cameras and sensors that it uses for navigation and features six high-resolution touch screens that passengers can use for entertainment or other applications. The front of the vehicle features two different colored LEDs that denote when the vehicle is in autonomous mode (blue) or driven manually (white). Another cool feature is that it can be app controlled using mobile devices in much the same fashion a KITT from Knight Rider but without the condescending AI.
BMW gets on the AV bandwagon with their Concept X5 eDrive- a new take on the hybrid vehicle.
BMW’s autonomous offering is actually a hybrid vehicle of sorts, which combines the company’s xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive system with their plug-in hybrid technology (part electric, part gas depending on your mood). This vehicle isn’t exactly autonomous in that it drives itself without human input, rather it engages a smart-drive system when adverse road conditions are experienced, such as icy, slick or uneven roads. When those conditions are encountered, the vehicle sends increased power to the wheels that have the surest footing on the road, which it does in a matter of milliseconds. While it may not be fully autonomous, it is an intelligent system that takes over for the driver when needed.
The Audi A7 ‘Jack’ recently completed a 550-mile journey to CES 2015 mostly by itself.
One of the more advanced vehicles in this list with autonomous capability comes from Audi with their A7 Concept car, which recently completed a 550-mile journey from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas almost entirely by itself. The A7 is outfitted with a series of hidden sensors, including laser, 6X RADAR packages, 3X cameras and 2X light detectors and LIDAR units, which keep the vehicle on the road and able to navigate itself through traffic. Those sensors allow the vehicle to choose the optimal path when going from point A to B and can actually perform smooth lane changes, maintain safe driving distances and even transition from slow and fast lanes based on surrounding traffic with relative ease and safety.
DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology looks to bring a level of autonomous navigation in combat vehicles. (via DARPA)
Autonomous drive capability isn’t centered on commercial vehicles alone as DARPA has been experimenting with the technology through their Ground X-Vehicle Technology Program, which aims to create a more mobile and less armored combat platform. Like BMW’s Concept X5, the combat vehicles would be semi-autonomous- meaning they can navigate to a certain extent (performing routine driving tasks) allowing the occupants to focus on other combat related tasks. One of the more notable concept vehicles does away with windows in favor of high-resolution screens, which provide a detailed view of the battlefield with augmented reality overlays that provide detailed information through the vehicles sensor suite.
The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 looks to bring autonomous technology to the trucking industry. (via Mercedes-Benz)
Cars, wagons, tanks and now semi-tractor trailers are getting in on self-driving capabilities as well, effectively making those long-haul runs a lot easier on the drivers thanks to Mercedes-Benz. The F 015 isn’t the only autonomous vehicle they have been developing, they are also getting in on the trucking industry with their Future Truck 2025. Like some of the others featured in this list, the Future Truck 2025 is semi-autonomous, in that it takes over when it reaches a certain cruising speed, allowing the driver to focus on other tasks. While not much is known about the 2025, some details have been made public- it’s outfitted with stereo cameras and RADAR sensors for navigation as well as identifying pedestrians, other vehicles and even road conditions, which it then acts accordingly.
It may not be pretty but GUSS is the Marine Corps entry into the autonomous vehicle world and is designed to follow troops downrange. (via Virginia Tech)
The military already possesses drones capable of autonomous flight and now they’re turning their attention to ground-based vehicles that can do the same. Case in point- the US Marines Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS). The vehicle was actually developed by TORC Robotics, Virginia Tech and Naval Surface Warfare Dahlgren Division (a newly built R&D lab) to act as a ‘pack mule’ of sorts and carry gear and wounded soldiers. Like the other vehicles, this fully autonomous platform is outfitted with LIDAR, cameras and advanced mapping computers that allow it to function on its own. Soldiers can also take control of the vehicle using a Tactical Robotic Controller if the need arises, making it a versatile vehicle.
It may look cartoonish but Google’s self-driving vehicle is all about safety. (via Google)
Google’s foray into to the autonomous vehicle world looks like something out of a children’s book but looks can be deceiving. The company is actually looking take humans out of the equation altogether, as passengers would simply tell the vehicle where they want to go, much like the cabs in the original Total Recall movie. The car is outfitted with a host of sensors that allow it to ‘see’ around it for navigation and obstacle avoidance. While the current prototypes offer manual controls, the final version will have none at all. Google takes the issue of safety seriously when it comes to their AV vehicles, going beyond obstacle avoidance, as the tech company was recently granted a patent for external airbags in case pedestrians get a little too close.
RDM’s Lutz Pathfinder is one of the few autonomous vehicles that will soon be available to the public. (via Lutz)
While most other autonomous vehicles are still in the development process, UK tech company RDM is looking to release their Lutz Pathfinder ‘pod’ vehicle to the public very soon, once their trialed that is. The difference between the Pathfinder and other self-driving vehicles is that they were designed to operate on pedestrian pavements or sidewalks. They will ferry passengers around city centers and other populated areas much like a tram or bus. The University of Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group developed the navigation sensors (22 in all), which include light and LIDAR for mapping the surrounding area and objects in its vicinity.
Delphi’s self-driving vehicle makes use of an Audi SQ5 SUV and is currently undertaking a coast-to-coast test-drive from San Francisco to New York. (via Delphi)
The final vehicle on the list comes from Delphi Automotive PLC- a UK-based company specializing in vehicle technologies. The company outfitted an Audi SQ5 SUV with a windshield-mounted camera that reads traffic lights, road signs and lane markers directly in front of it, while 4 midrange sensors, 6 long-range sensors, 3 camera sensors and 6 LIDARs garner positioning data for navigation. What makes this unique is the fact that Delphi is test-driving the vehicle from coast-to-coast across the US completely hands free. The journey started on March 22 from Treasure Island in San Francisco and will complete its journey in New York City at some point in the coming weeks, covering a distance of over 3,500 miles!
With so much work on autonomous vehicles, it wouldn't be surprising to see adoption in the next decade.
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