Thursday, January 31, 2013

The ultimate self driving machine

31 January 2013

Self-driving cars may seem like science fiction, but most of the technology already exists. Indeed, over the past century we’ve gradually ceded our driving duties to automated systems.

The next generation of gearheads won’t obsess over horsepower and torque; they’ll focus on things like radar range, communication latency, and pixel resolution. Here’s a look at the technology that will power the autonomous cars of the near future.

In the picture:

1 Radar
High-end cars already bristle with radar, which can track nearby objects. For instance, Mercedes’ Distronic Plus, an accident-prevention system, includes units on the rear bumper that trigger an alert when they detect something in the car’s blind spot.

2 Lane-keeping
Windshield-mounted cameras recognize lane markings by spotting the contrast between the road surface and the boundary lines. If the vehicle leaves its lane unintentionally, brief vibrations of the steering wheel alert the driver.

Google employs Velodyne’s rooftop Light Detection and Ranging system, which uses 64 lasers, spinning at upwards of 900 rpm, to generate a point cloud that gives the car a 360-degree view.

4 Infrared Camera
Mercedes’ Night View assist uses two headlamps to beam invisible, nonreflective infrared light onto the road ahead. A windshield-mounted camera detects the IR signature and shows the illuminated image (with hazards highlighted) on the dashboard display.

5 Stereo Vision
Mercedes’ prototype system uses two windshield-mounted cameras to build a real-time 3-D image of the road ahead, spotting potential hazards like pedestrians and predicting where they are headed.

6 GPS/Inertial Measurement
A self-driver has to know where it’s going. Google uses a positioning system from Applanix, as well as its own mapping and GPS tech.

7 Wheel Encoder
Wheel-mounted sensors measure the velocity of the Google car as it maneuvers through traffic.