Driverless vans complete Silk Road challenge

Four solar-powered electric vans have arrived in Shanghai at the end of a three-month journey from Italy to China, completing a new Silk Road challenge that tested the possibilities of autonomous driving.

VIAC, the VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge, is a project of the University of Parma's artificial vision and intelligent systems laboratory. A team of researchers travelled with the vehicles, operating them in two pairs - the first vehicle was driven conventionally while the second, though occupied, was allowed to follow autonomously for significant stretches, in effect driven by its software using input from a range of sensors.

The journey was not without its problems, ranging from administrative issues over the validity of visas to technical glitches that included the simultaneous failure of all four battery chargers, caused by a spike from the power supply unit.

An additional element of the challenge was to collect environmental data along the route, using CO2 sensors and specially designed smartphones to provide a live stream of data to the Web via Twitter.

The VIAC team will talk about their adventure on Thursday 28 October in the European Pavilion of the World Fair in Shanghai. The project received a £1.5m grant from the EU's European Research Council.


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