Volkswagen’s latest milestone on the journey towards self-driving vehicles is completing Mexico’s longest-ever trek in an autonomous car. A team of researchers has completed, traveling 1,500 miles in a special high-tech Volkswagen.
Raul Rojas, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, led a team that traveled from Nogales to Mexico City in October.
The car used for the journey is a 2010 Volkswagen Passat station wagon—named Autonomos—equipped with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras, seven radars and an incredibly precise GPS unit, all of which were used in various combinations to navigate during the trip. The researchers can switch sensors on and off and can then test the behavior of the car under different circumstances.
Prior to departure, the crew covered 4,000 miles in and around Nevada (where it’s been legal for road testing of self-driving vehicles since 2011), collecting as much data as possible. Afterward, they scrutinized the information to ensure the system was glitch-free. Rojas and company pre-programmed the route into the self-driving software, but the car handled maneuvers like braking and lane changes on the fly.
The trip went smoothly, with the only issues occurring when the car encountered fresh pavement without lane markings. Despite this “significant issue,” as Rojas put it, the car arrived safely in Mexico City approximately one week after its October 12 departure. Autonomos covered between 250 and 300 miles per day. The autonomous system adjusts the vehicle’s speed to always maintain an adequate braking distance to vehicles and obstacles in front of it.
While this is a significant achievement for autonomous driving, Rojas warns we’re not ready to roll out these systems to the public just yet.
Rojas has worked with autonomous cars since 2006. He attended the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City, where he majored in mathematics and physics.
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