Inching closer toward self-driving vehicles

DARPA’s successive desert Grand Challenges in 2004-05 greatly accelerated the technology of self-driving vehicles.  In 2004, no team came close to finishing the challenge; in 2005, five teams crossed the finish line.  Breakthroughes were made because the innovators got interested. 

Those same innovators should learn even more this November during the first Urban Challenge, where unmanned vehicles must navigate through a mock cityscape.  They’ll have to park, merge into traffic, avoid fake human beings and obey traffic signals.  I personally look for the same results as the 2004 Grand Challenge, but it will be a definite learning experience.

Now comes word of the Kanagawa Project, which could move us closer to an actual self-driving automobile in the showroom, albeit in 10 years or so.  As part of the project, Japanese automakers are studying a system that alerts drivers to the presence of children in a busy urban neighborhood.

As part of the experiment, Nissan Motor Corp. is placing bracelets on young children that relay signals to vehicles in the area. Drivers passing through are told, “Children nearby, please be careful.” 

Good technology, but it may be even better if that information were someday relayed to an onboard computer, and the driving was done for us.

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