CMU and the Future of Self-Driving Cars

Jan 15, 2013


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Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup: The Car

Driving around a college campus can be treacherous. Bikes and scooters zip out of nowhere, distracted students wander into traffic, and stopped cars and speed bumps suddenly appear. It takes a vigilant driver to avoid catastrophe.

Jesse Levinson does not much worry about this when he drives his prototype Volkswagen Touareg around the Stanford University campus here. A computer vision system he helped design keeps an unblinking eye out for pedestrians and cyclists, and automatically slows and stops the car when they enter his path.

Someday soon, few drivers will have to worry about car crashes and collisions, whether on congested roads or on empty highways, technology companies and car manufacturers are betting. But even now, drivers are benefiting from a suite of safety systems, and many more are in development to transform driving from a manual task to something more akin to that of a conductor overseeing an orchestra.

An array of optical and radar sensors now monitor the surroundings of a growing number of cars traveling the nation’s highways, and in some cases even track the driver’s physical state. Pedestrian detection systems, like the one that Mr. Levinson, a research scientist at Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research, has helped design, are already available in luxury cars and are being built into some midrange models.

The systems offer auditory, visual and mechanical warnings if a collision is imminent — and increasingly, if needed, take evasive actions automatically. By the middle of this decade, under certain conditions, they will take over the task of driving completely at both high and low speeds.

But the new systems are poised to refashion the nature of driving fundamentally long before completely autonomous vehicles arrive.

“This is really a bridge,” said Ragunathan Rajkumar, a computer science professor who is leading a Carnegie Mellon University automated driving research project partly financed by General Motors. “The driver is still in control. But if the driver is not doing the right thing, the technology takes over.”

Read the rest of the story at The New York Times >>

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