Though Google gets the most attention for their work, they are far from the only ones working on driverless car technology. And while Google is churning along, logging hundreds of thousands of miles with their fleet of Priuses and just recently Lexus hybrids, Stanford University feels the need - the need for speed.
Stanford is showing off Shelley, their self-driving Audi TTS which can zip around the track at up to 120 MPH. This means that the car can complete the twisty three-mile course in just under 2 and 1/2 minutes.
Thunderhill track consists of 15 turns - high speed turns, sharp turns after straightaways, and even a blind turn at the top of a hill. "Each one of these really represents a separate challenge for the car, and test a different part of out algorithm," says engineer Chris Gerdes.
They're studying the difference between Shelley and a human driver. Apparently, human drivers can still tackle the course a little bit faster (just a few seconds).
"We need to know what the best drivers do that makes them so successful," Gerdes says. "If we can pair that with the vehicle dynamics data, we can better use the car's capabilities."
It's not just about impressive speed. And it's also not just about building a system that will chauffeur people around after a night of too many martinis. It's also about finding out the limits of drive-assist technology, which will continue to show up more and more in cars of the future.
"The experience and data gathered by running Shelley around the track could one day lead to fully autonomous cars that safely drive you and your loved ones from Point A to Point B on public roads. In the nearer term, the technology could show up as a sort of onboard co-pilot that helps the driver steer out of a dangerous situation," says Bjorn Carey of Standford News Service. "And while Gerdes and crew clearly enjoy racing Shelley, the truth is that pushing the car to its limits on the racetrack – its brake pads melted on its last Thunderhill run – is the best way to learn what type of stress a car is under in a crisis, and what it takes to get the car straightened out."
Check out Gerdes explaining the test run below:
Google just announced that their fleet of driverless cars had topped 300,000 miles without incident. They said that some additional testing needs to be done, for instance training in inclement weather. But soon, they say they'll cut them lose and finally remove the team member failsafe from the equation.
States like Nevada and California are already taking steps to legalize and regulate self-driving cars. Google thinks that we're inside a decade away from the technology being road ready, and automakers like Ford think we're even closer than that.[via Singularity Hub]