A European research consortium is finishing up a project to build a car that can drop you off at a train station, find an empty spot and park there, then pick you up later.
The project is called V-Charge because its cars will charge themselves, too. And, though it would fully automate just the beginning and the end of a trip and would work only at low speeds, the impact could be big if such cars reach the market soon.
And they will, asserts Paul Furgale, of ETH Zurich, the scientific director of the project. He spoke on Thursday at the REWORK Future Cities summit in London, according to Engineering and Technology magazine, which is based there. Three universities besides his own are involved: Oxford University, the Università degli Studi di Parma, and the Technische Universität Braunschweig. So are two companies: Volkswagen AG and Robert Bosch GmbH.
The cars will respond to commands sent through a smartphone app, and they will steer themselves, even in closed spaces that don’t have access to GPS signals, by using what are described as low-cost, “near-market” sensors. That would seem to include compact LIDAR units, which suppliers like Vimeo and Ibeo hope to sell for less than US $300 by 2016.
Right now, though, the researchers are testing Volkswagen Polos equipped with eight cameras of different kinds and 12 ultrasonic sensors.
Even though the cars will proceed at a crawl, they’ll need all the eyes and brains they can get to stay out of trouble.
“Pedestrians behave quite unpredictably in areas where cars are driving slowly,” Furgale said. “There are many objects around, and the car needs to be able to figure out whether these objects are static or moving and in what directions are they moving.”
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.