TWO ELECTRIC VANS are driving themselves on a 13,000km journey from Italy to China to demonstrate vehicle autonomy using a solar powered robot driver.
If successful the robot driver technology, say the Italian researchers, could lead to driverless lorries in ten years time and cars that drive themselves ten years after that. Starting today from Parma with a send off by an Italian government minister, it was a spinout, er, spinoff company, Vislab, from the city's university that has organised the three month challenge.
It will see a team of four vans drive at 60km/hr every day to cover 100km with a goal of reaching Shanghai in October. Two pairs of modified Italian Piaggio manufactured Porter Standard Furgone vans will have a lead van driven by a person while the follow-on vehicle is operated by the computer. But team members, very brave team members, will sit in the back to take control if anything goes wrong. Prior permission from all the countries involved has been obtained for the team's journey.
When the vehicles do not have a local electrical supply to recharge their batteries, oil fuelled generators will be used to produce the electricity needed. If you are eager to see the roads of Eastern European and central Asian countries, there will be live video streaming from the robotic road trip. µ
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