System is designed to be less-intrusive then full-autopilot
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a system called "intelligent co-pilot". Rather than aiming for fully autonomous artificial intelligence-driven driving, à la Google Inc.'s (GOOG) self-driving car project, the new MIT study focuses on a "semi-autonomous" system.
Hunting for Safety
According to Sterling Anderson, a PhD student in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, most current commercially implemented algorithms hunt for static clues in their environment, such as the curb.
This isn't how the human driver functions. Comments Mr. Anderson, "The problem is, humans don't think that way. When you and I drive, [we don't] choose just one path and obsessively follow it. Typically you and I see a lane or a parking lot, and we say, 'Here is the field of safe travel, here's the entire region of the roadway I can use, and I'm not going to worry about remaining on a specific line, as long as I'm safely on the roadway and I avoid collisions."
To mirror that human mind-set the MIT team's algorithm uses so-called "homotopies" -- probable safe zones in the environment. The environment is triangulated, as the driver is drives to determine if the driver is crossing the border from safety to danger.
When such an event is detected, the car's AI takes over and steers the car around the obstacle, back into a homotopic (safe) zone.
The team has performed 1,200 trials in which they drive normally, but then abruptly head on a collision course with a construction barrel. Most times the car has been able to avoid the collision. The few incidents where there was a collision appear to have stemmed from camera failures.
The tests were performed on a course in Saline, Mich., a city in the state's southeast Washtenaw County.
Eaton Corp. intelligent truck technology manager Benjamin Saltsman praises the system for its minimalist approach. He says that the system uses less computation power and fewer sensors than fully autonomous alternatives from Google and Ford Motor Comp. (F).
Comments Mr. Saltsman, "The implications of [Anderson's] system is it makes it lighter in terms of sensors and computational requirements than what a fully autonomous vehicle would require. This simplification makes it a lot less costly, and closer in terms of potential implementation."
Next - Using a Smartphone
Mr. Anderson isn't completely satisfied with the system, however, as he fears it could lure beginning drivers to rely on the collision avoidance as a crutch and perform more risky maneuvers. On the flip side of the coin experienced drivers may be frustrated with the system for overriding dangerous maneuvers.
Still, he's convinced the technology may be eventually fine tuned to be relatively pleasing for the masses and save lives.
Mr. Anderson and Karl Iagnemma, a principal research scientist in MIT's Robotic Mobility Group, the other author of the work, will next look to use a dashboard mounted smartphone (which offers a camera, accelerometer, and gyroscope) to perform identical collision detection.
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