Italian team completes three-month driverless trek to China | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 01.11.2010
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Italian team completes three-month driverless trek to China

In a DW interview, Alberto Broggi talks about his team completing a driverless trek to China. The team will spend the next few months analyzing all the data that was gathered.

The vehicle arrived in Shanghai on October 26

The vehicle arrived in Shanghai on October 26

In late July, an Italian team set out from Parma, Italy to Shanghai, China, on a trek to drive an autonomous, or driverless, vehicle 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles). The VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge achieved this by having one van, equipped with several sensors, GPS and other devices, autonomously follow a car driven by a human. The vans only took city streets and rural roads, and not major highways. In the final interview in a four-part series, Deutsche Welle spoke with the leader of VisLab, Alberto Broggi, who is a professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma.

You completed the trip to Shanghai on October 28th. What happened on the last day?

Actually, we unofficially concluded everything on the 26th, but officially it was the 28th. On the 27th we cleaned the vehicles and prepared everything because we had embedded journalists coming the day after. Then, we had a presentation at the European pavilion followed by a demonstration at the World Expo.

It sounded like you didn't have that many problems with the trip overall. Am I safe in assuming that the last month in Kazakhstan and China was equally smooth?

Yes, yes, definitely. The main problems were logistics problems. We were trapped at customs in China for many hours. We had some minor problems, like the power system - we had a failure in the recharger of all four vehicles at the same time. These are really very small problems. If you talk about the autonomous driver, we really didn't have big problems. We did have some issues, and had to switch back to manual mode a few times, and we recorded that data.

The van has four laser scanners and seven video cameras

The van has four laser scanners and seven video cameras

Since you've been on the road for these last three months, there have been other teams that have announced autonomous driving projects, including a team from Berlin and another from Google. How has this affected the wider research into autonomous driving?

We're really happy about the Google story. Because the media have always been interested in our project, but only as a curiosity. It's kind of a strange thing that people work on cars without a driver. As soon as Google showed up and started advertising that they were working on this project, all the media were interested and it gave an additional [boost] to the topic. I'm really happy that Google did that. And I'm really happy that the other German people, from Berlin and from Braunschweig, have been active for a long time. Right now they've started advertising their efforts, so it seems media people are giving proper attention to this project.

This may be a silly question, but how are you going to get your vans back to Italy?

They will be driving. In two days, they will start driving back. Actually our people and the vehicles will be put into the trucks and people will be driving the trucks and the motor homes. They will take, I guess, a little less than 35 days.

Alberto Broggi (left), accompanied the team during the last few weeks of the voyage

Alberto Broggi (left), accompanied the team during the last few weeks of the voyage

Now that this project has been successfully completed, what's next for you? You must have a lot of data to analyze.

In the next few months we will be working on this data and hopefully sharing it with other centers. I'm not sure how we're going to do that, as 50 terabytes of data is impossible to manage easily. I'm assuming the data will be valuable for the next couple of years and maybe more. There are huge amounts of data in different situations which is what you need when you design driverless systems. Then we have something more scheduled for 2012.

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Kyle James

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