Washington: Researchers led by an Indian-origin scientist have developed a new `crash-proof` driver-less car that can safely navigate its way through busy roads.
The self-driving vehicle, developed by Carnegie Mellon University, demonstrated that it could negotiate congestion and highway traffic while safely changing lanes and merging during a challenging 53km drive from Cranberry, Pasadena, to Pittsburgh International Airport in US.
This uniquely capable vehicle nevertheless looks, from the outside, much like any other 2011 Cadillac SRX.
A human was in the driver`s seat as a safety precaution, but all of the driving was done by its innovative software, relying on inputs from radars, lidars and infrared cameras.
"Autonomous driving technology is progressing rapidly," said Professor Raj Rajkumar, who directs CMU`s transportation research center and co-directs the CMU-General Motors Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab.
He noted that many auto makers and companies such as Google host active research efforts.
"This car is the holy grail of autonomous driving because it can do it all - from changing lanes on highways, driving in congested suburban traffic and navigating traffic lights," said Rajkumar.
Unlike some previous self-driving vehicles, the SRX doesn`t bristle with exotic and expensive sensors, researchers said.
The vehicle uses only automotive-grade radars and lidars, which are unobtrusively embedded around the car. Its computers are hidden under the cargo floor.
In addition to controlling the steering, speed and braking, the autonomous systems also detect and avoid obstacles in the road, including traffic cones and barrels, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, pausing until they are safely out of the way.
The systems provide audible warnings of obstacles and communicate vehicle status to its passengers using a human-like voice.
The Cadillac SRX also can communicate with instrumented traffic lights and other vehicles equipped with wireless communication devices to enable cooperation.
The main goal of CMU`s driver-less car is to reduce accidents, thereby decreasing injuries and fatalities. In addition, autonomous vehicles will save time during daily commutes and long distance travels by taking over the task of driving and giving people more time to catch up on rest, work and family time, according to Rajkumar.
"The car`s electronics are simply more reliable than people and will protect drivers from their own bad behaviour as well as those of others, such as drinking or texting," Rajkumar said.