If you're going to win the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge, you've got to be pretty clever; even so, when General Motors (GM) invited the SlashGear CES team to be passengers in their Chevy Tahoe self-driving SUV, there was a little apprehension about giving up the keys to a robot! Of course, we shouldn't have been worried: with 25 sensors, including five radar units giving a 360-degree view of its surroundings, two lasers from specialist Continental and GPS, all feeding data about the driving environment and any potential obstacles into advanced behavior algorithms, the Tahoe had more eyes on the road than the team did!
Continental Automotive Systems are the brains behind the 'Boss', the heavily adapted Chevy, and they're not really viewing this as an opportunity to pick up DARPA's $2m first-prize. Instead, it's seen as a test-bed for a variety of intelligent safety, telemetry and driver assistance projects that will feed back into Continental's industry partners. Right now, they're working on the next-gen incarnation of ABS and ESC braking, embedded telematics such as Bluetooth hands-free, security and car access control, hybrid drives and adaptive cruise control, all of which will have some aspect of the Boss educating them.
"Since there are no human drivers in the Urban Challenge, the driverless cars must “see” roads and other vehicles with cameras, lasers, radar, sensors and other smart car technologies. Planning software continuously determines where and how to drive, how to avoid trouble and how to quickly reach a destination" DARPA
Adaptive cruise control is perhaps the most entertaining of the lot, with the car maintaining not only a constant speed but a safe distance between other traffic. It can predict a potential collision, warn the driver and, if their responses aren't deemed sufficient to prevent it, intervene itself with extra braking and directing power to different wheels.
So what's the experience like? Crazy, that's what. Riding in the Chevy Tahoe was both amazing and uncomfortable: unpredictable, and difficult at times to accept that this was the SUV driving and not someone directing it via remote control. Of course, most drivers wouldn't be happy giving up ownership of the steering wheel to a computer, and so the practical applications will be more transparent. I personally can't wait until some of the technology filters down: while I might be happy with my own skills on the road, its everyone else driving that I don't trust!
Many thanks to GM and Continental Automotive Systems for the opportunity to experience the Boss.
Ride along in the back seat!
Ride along in the front seat!
360-degrees video tour!