A Vehicle That Drives Itself.....Really!
What do you get if you throw a new Land Rover LR3, some high-tech sensors, an advanced data processing unit and a few great minds from MIT into a mixer and blend thoroughly?
For quite some time companies have been experimenting with remote control vehicles, the big kind you see passing you on the highway that is. Now, our friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taken that concept a step farther. They have completely removed the human involvement in motor vehicle operation.
The concept uses a Land Rover LR3 as the starting point. MIT then completely modified the entire vehicle to be able to drive without any human input whatsoever. This is the first fully autonomous Land Rover ever seen. The LR3 is also able to perform basic tasks such as merge into traffic and avoid obstacles in its drive path.
By combining a handful of sensors and a data processing unit, MIT was able to program the LR3 to use GPS (Global Positioning System) and INS (Inertial Navigation System) to constantly monitor its position in a given region. The two systems combined are accurate to within half a meter anywhere on the globe. The Land Rover also employs LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). LIDAR is a network or range finders with vision sensors used to monitor the surrounding area for anything that may pose a threat to the LR3.
MIT has plans of taking first place in the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Urban Challenge coming up in November. The Urban Challenge brings together between 6 and 10 highly modified vehicles, like the LR3, to compete head-to-head. The final round of the competition will be held in Victorville, CA on November 3, 2007. It will consist of a 60 mile urban course which must be completed in 6 hours or less. The LR3 will be tasked with situations such as merging with traffic, navigating through intersections and maneuvering to avoid various obstacles.
The technology for commercial use is still a few years off, but the advantages and applications are endless. Think about the time you could save on long road trips if you didn't have to stop every 3 hours to take a break. You could just lay back and sleep and let your vehicle do the driving. Anyone up for some robotic road rage?