Climb. In September of this year, multiple autonomous
vehicles will have attempted this difficult task. One of the
cars is an Audi TTS nicknamed ‘Shelly’ (shown in Figure 10)
that was specially developed for the race by Stanford
University in cooperation with Volkswagen’s Electronics
Research Laboratory (ERL) based in Silicon Valley. Figure 11
shows a small amount of the computing power of Shelly.
ERL is no stranger to designing and building robot cars
as it was the group that took the re-worked 2005 VW
Stanley I mentioned earlier to win DARPA’s 132 mile robot
car race through the Mojave. ERL (and Stanford’s AI Lab)
later built Junior based on a VW Passat that was designed
to autonomously maneuver within slow city traffic — a
vehicle more adaptable for today’s average consumer driver.
Marcial Hernandez, a project manager at ERL, says that
VW’s Junior “was about getting you to Grandma’s house”
— slow, meticulous, safe. In contrast to the much slower
Junior, Shelly will scream up the winding road at breakneck
speeds and probably give Grandma a heart attack, and
certainly her children riding in the car. These various
stepping stones to more advanced automotive technology
around the world will continue until the perfect robot car
for the average driver is available in dealer showrooms.
Sure, it’s marketing, but it is also a way to stay in
business in the competitive automotive industry in
these difficult times.
questions, nobody has ever said that the development and
implementation of any technology would be easy. Cell
phone systems were first laughed at by intelligent people as
impossible. “Having thousands of personal transceivers
interconnecting with a myriad of cell towers would be a
logistical nightmare.” Well, the first cell phones cost
thousands of dollars, were as big as a brick, and only the
wealthy could afford the high cost of using them. Today’s
tiny cell phones are literally given away, have so many
functions that few people use them all, plus cell towers are
everywhere for the billions of people who use cell phones
worldwide. If people want driverless cars that are safe and
save them time and money, they will come as soon as the
public demands them.
What is Needed to Make
Autonomous Cars a Reality?
Some have said that the first real step in implementing
driverless cars is to have them operate on a separate
roadway away from human-driven cars. The Personal Rapid
FIGURE 12. Driverless pod for use at London’s
Why Have a Robot Car?
That might seem to be a thoughtless question in
a robotics magazine in these days of great
technological advances, but many people have truly
wondered just why we need all this automation. The
proponents of driverless cars speak of safety, the
convenience of calling a robo-taxi from your cell
phone, less congestion on roads, and robotized
delivery. They naively speak of no more DUIs, 41,000
highway deaths per year would no longer happen,
and kids could be safely delivered to their schools.
The detractors also speak of safety or the lack
thereof, extreme liability exposure, the high costs of
the required infrastructure, and reliable vehicles.
Getting a little deeper, non-technical people have
questioned “What if a fuse blows or a computer fails
when my driverless car is barreling down a highway
of the future?” “Why give the ‘passengers’ of a
driverless car a false sense of security when
something can so easily go wrong?” “Can these
robot cars work on our regular highways?” Technical
people ask “What will power these cars as present
battery technology — even today’s Li-Ion batteries —
seem woefully inefficient.” “The many sensors and
multiple computer systems required for today’s
DARPA and other contests make the successful
development of these cars a very high hurdle.”
Well, in response to all of these very valid
FIGURE 13. Heathrow pod roadway.
SERVO 11.2010 79