Driverless vans on a trip from Italy to China

July 22nd, 2010 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 22 (IANS) Two driverless electric robot vans have begun an epic journey from Italy to China, using cameras and laser scanners to aid navigation and avoid collision with other vehicles.
The VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge began in front of the Milan Cathedral in Italy Tuesday.

The self-driving vehicles will brave the traffic of Moscow and the bitter cold of the Gobi desert before finally arriving in Shanghai by October end, reports the Telegraph.

The bright orange Piaggio Porter Electric vans are using cameras and laser scanners to aid navigation and avoid colliding with vehicles on the 12,800-km journey.

Technicians travelling in the heavily modified vehicles will take control whenever “a decision on the road has to be taken”, but most of the driving will be automatic.

The vans are topped with solar panels that power the computer processors, sensors and driving actuators, but the vans themselves are powered by their original electric engines.

They have a top speed of 37 miles per hour and are expected to drive for just four hours a day before stopping to recharge.

The engines will use petrol generators if a power outlet cannot be found in remote regions and a truck carrying alternative vans is travelling in convoy in case the vehicle breaks down.

“What we are trying to do is stress our systems and see if they can work in a real environment, with real weather, real traffic and crazy people who cross the road in front of you and a vehicle that cuts you off,” said Alberto Brogg, the project leader.

Brogg believes driverless vehicles are still 20 years away from hitting the market. A separate project to test robotic cars predicted earlier this year that the technology could be perfected within 10 years.

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