roughly when to turn and gives you a semi-detailed set of
instructions, but it’s up to the driver to perform the fine-tuned actions of stopping at a red light vs. going at a green
light vs. flooring it at a yellow light, braking when that
teenager on her cell phone cuts you off without using her
turn signal, staying in your lane, and keeping on the right
side of the island on that boulevard.
As far as the Prius knows (“knows,” depending on how
many human traits you like to attribute to your car ...), it
has no idea that it was turned into a robot. That MacBook
operates the car’s controls (steering wheel, gas, and brake)
with a drive-by-wire system, rather than interfacing into the
Prius’ smart hybrid computer brain.
Forget the high mileage boasted on the dealer sticker
on the Prius. This vehicle averages 23 mpg in autonomous
mode. Probably not too different from the smooth-driving-yet-hefty Boss Chevy Tahoe.
Adam gave me the run-down on the amusingly short
list of significant sensors bolted to The Prius With No Name:
• Velodyne HDL-64E 64-laser LIDAR rotating at 10 Hz
(Yes, I copied and pasted that from the Boss description — I
challenge you to find a successful robot car that does not
have one of these spinning domes bolted to its roof!).
• GPS on the roof determines vehicle location.
Also hidden in the car are accelerometers and odometry
data, used when a good GPS signal is hard to find. Long
Beach’s skyline, intertwined with the street race course, was
conspiring against the robot cars, but they didn’t seem to
mind very much. For the Grand Prix, the team also kicked
their system up a notch by refining it to cruise at speeds up
to 28 mph — up from their previous 15 mph top speed.
So, how did it work? The Prius was significantly slower
than the other two robot cars, paused at a few turns, tapped
the brakes as much as a cautious octogenarian on a busy
street, and even added some slalom action around some
54 SERVO 08.2008
imaginary cones on a straightaway. “Look! The Prius is heating
up its tires on its warmup lap!” the race announcer mused
over the PA. The 23 mpg mystery was solved! Although the
Prius’ driving performance was the least impressive of the trio,
the fact that it did so much with so little was astounding.
Furthermore, it could blend in as well on a normal city
street as the Google Maps street view camera car or a car
belonging to a serious mountain biking addict.
Former Life: 2006 VW Passat station wagon
Named After: Presumably the little brother of Stanford’s
bigger VW Touareg — winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand
Pedigree: 2nd place in 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge
Turn-Ons: “Intel Inside” stickers on cars, not just PCs!
Team: Stanford University
Unfortunately, SERVO didn’t get a chance to talk with
anybody from the Stanford team. Based on the impressive
operation of Junior, we’re certain that they’re all really
smart and stuff.
Even if SERVO Magazine doesn’t give me a free press
pass to the 2009 Long Beach Grand Prix, I am so going to
attend, crazy ticket prices be damned! It will be worth the
price of admission just to see what sort of evolutionary
leaps these robotic cars have performed during their
intensive off-season training program.
What’s next for robotic race cars? Adam Solomon
grins: “This year was just a demo. I hear they’re hoping to
make this a race!” SV
Dr. Jason Bardis is a Mechanical Design Engineer for Alliance
Spacesystems in Pasadena, CA. In addition to having three giant
nuts from his three BattleBots championships, he designed many
parts on the Phoenix Mars Lander’s trench-digging arm, which is
currently “making its mark” on Mars.