Driverless electric vans travel successfully from Italy to China

Melbourne, Oct 29 (ANI): Four electric vans that were driverless and which did not have maps have successfully made a 13,000-kilometre test drive from Italy to China.

The vans, which arrived at the Shanghai Expo this week, are equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles.

The sensors on the vehicles enabled them to navigate through wide extremes in road, traffic and weather conditions, while collecting data to be analysed for further research.

They are part of an experiment sponsored by the European Research Council aimed at improving road safety and advancing automotive technology.

"We didn't know the route, I mean what the roads would have been and if we would have found nice roads, traffic, lots of traffic, medium traffic, crazy drivers or regular drivers, so we encountered the lot," the Age quoted Isabella Fredriga, a research engineer for the project, as saying.

The vans did however carry researchers as passengers just in case of emergencies, and they did have to intervene a few times like when the vehicles got snarled in a Moscow traffic jam and to handle toll stations.

A computerised artificial vision system dubbed GOLD, for Generic Obstacle and Lane Detector, analysed the information from the sensors and automatically adjusted the vehicles' speed and direction.

"This steering wheel is controlled by the PC. So the PC sends a command and the steering wheel moves and turns and we can follow the road, follow the curves and avoid obstacles with this," Alberto Broggi of Vislab at the University of Parma in Italy, the lead researcher for the project, said.

"The idea here was to travel on a long route, on two different continents, in different states, different weather, different traffic conditions, different infrastructure.

"Then we can have some huge number of situations to test the system on," he said.

The vehicles ran at maximum speeds of 60 kilometres per hour and had to be recharged for eight hours after every two to three hours of driving. At times, it was monotonous and occasionally nerve-racking, inevitably due to human error.

"There were a few scary moments. Like when the following vehicle bumped into the leading one and that was just because we forgot, we stopped and we forgot to turn the system off," Fredriga added. (ANI)

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