MUNICH, Germany In the European Land Robot Trial, a vehicle of the university of the German armed forces (Universitaet der Bundeswehr) is the winner in the speed discipline. In comparison the Darpa Grand Challenge, the European contest demands more autonomy, participants say.
The vehicle used by the university's team was a Volkswagen Tuareg, the same type that already has won last year's Grand Challenge. Basically, the vehicle even was equipped very similarly, but in contrast to the Darpa Grand Challenge where the vehicles drive along a track that connects waypoints, defined by GPS navigation, the European Land Robot Trial does not allow the intensive use of satellite navigation.
"The purpose of this test is to study methods to drive a vehicle really autonomously. The test simulates an emergency mission, including the assumption that no satellite navigation is available", explained Felix von Hundelshausen, software coordinator of the university's team. "During the contest, our GPS system was not used at all."
While the distance of only 8 kilometers seems ridiculous compared with the Grand Challenge distance (more than 200 km), the challenges were significant: The vehicles had to find their way mainly through image processing; the camera image was completed by a lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) system and 64 sensors to identify obstacles such as trees, rocks, or human beings. With a rotation speed of 10 rpm, the lidar system resolved 1 million pixels, which then were processed to a 3D-image of the ambience.
The vehicle's electronics also can 'read' road signs and use the information gathered for navigational decisions, von Hundelshausen explained.
Despite this effort, the vehicle had to be driven manually across critical intersections, the team reports. Nevertheless, it managed to drive 90 percent of the distance autonomously.
By further refining sensors and algorithms, the technology is aimed to be used in volume cars - eventually. Team leader Hans-Joachim Wünsche believes that autonomous vehicles in everyday road traffic will be feasible in 15 to 20 years.