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Robo-Car On The Road

Robo-Car On The Road

By Hannah Isom

Stanford University have unveiled plans for a new robot car, which could spell the end for bumps and scrapes on the roads. The unmanned vehicle, affectionately named ‘Junior’, was revealed at this week’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco (that’s AAASS to you and me).

Although on the surface the car is essentially tarted-up Volkswagen Passat, it has been specially engineered to have artificial intelligence, enabling it to ‘think’.

In order to drive independently of a human, a car must be able to negotiate traffic, avoid obstacles, cross busy junctions and determine who has right of way. As many humans find these tasks nigh-on impossible most of the time, it is no mean feat for the engineering team behind Junior.

Sebastien Thrun, a computer science and engineering professor at Stanford, is the brains behind the robot car. He reckons that this new breed of car will make the roads safer for folks who would rather ride than drive. The elderly, visually impaired, or physically disabled could all potentially benefit from this technology.

“By 2030, we should be able to deploy this technology on highways reliably”, says Thrun. He later adds that a ‘battlefield’ version of the vehicle may be available as early as 2015, presumably because running people over on a battlefield might not necessarily be a disadvantage.

The finished car will be showcased at the DARPA Urban Challenge Derby, due to be held on November 3rd. Many other US universities will be entering similar vehicles into the race, which takes part in a mock city environment and comes with a $2 million prize for the winner. The team at Stanford shouldn’t be feeling too nervous however, as Stanley, their entrant into the 2005 race, sped away effortlessly with first prize.

However, the darker side to these technological advancements is what is could do to people who rely on driving for their livelihood. Bus drivers and cabbies could become obsolete, not to mention the insurance companies, who are reliant on people crashing into each other because they were picking their nose while they should have been paying attention to the road.

This article was brought to you by Hannah Isom. I hope you're grateful.

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Image: Stanford Racing Team

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26 Jul 2009
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