"In the last Grand Challenge, it didn't really matter whether an obstacle was a rock or a bush, because either way you'd just drive around it," says Sebastian Thrun, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering. "The current challenge is to move from just sensing the environment to understanding the environment."
That's because in the Urban Challenge, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the competing robots will have to accomplish missions in a simulated city environment, which includes the traffic of the other robots and traffic laws. This means that on race day, Nov. 3, the robots not only will have to avoid collisions, but also they will have to master concepts that befuddle many humans, such as right of way.
"This has a component of prediction," says Mike Montemerlo, a senior research engineer in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL). "There are other intelligent robot drivers out in the world. They are all making decisions. Predicting what they are going to do in the future is a hard problem that is important to driving. Is it my turn at the intersection? Do I have time to get across the intersection before somebody hits me?"
Racing team leaders Thrun and Montemerlo will discuss Junior for the first time Feb. 17 at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. Thrun will join fellow roboticists in a panel discussion, "Robots-Our Future's Sustainable Partner." He will speak about autonomous guidance systems and machine vision. Afterward, he and Montemerlo will participate in a press conference.
The racing team, based in the Stanford School of Engineering, is supported by returning industry team members Intel, MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, Red Bull and Volkswagen of America and joined this year by new supporters Applanix, Google and NXP Semiconductors. DARPA also has provided $1 million of funding.
Junior is a 2006 Passat wagon whose steering, throttle and brakes all have been modified by engineers at the Volkswagen of America Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., to be completely computer-controllable. The engineers also have created custom mountings for a bevy of sophisticated sensors.
An important difference between Junior and Stanley is that Junior must be aware of fast- moving objects all around it, while Stanley only had to grapple with still objects in front of it. Junior's sensors are therefore much more sophisticated, Thrun says. They include a range-finding laser array that spins to provide a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of the surrounding environment in near real-time. The laser array is accompanied by a device with six video cameras that "see" all around the car. Junior also uses bumper-mounted lasers, radar, Global Positioning System receivers and inertial navigation hardware to collect data about where it is and what is around.
Because Junior collects much more data than Stanley did, its computational hardware must be commensurately more powerful, says Montemerlo. Using Core 2 Duo processors-each chip includes multiple processing units-Junior's "brain" is about four times more powerful than Stanley's.
But what makes Junior truly autonomous will be its software, which is the focus of about a dozen students, faculty and researchers at SAIL. Modules for tasks such as perception, mapping and planning give Junior the machine-learning ability to improve its driving and to convert raw sensor data into a cohesive understanding of its situation.
New software development began last fall. Montemerlo has been testing some of the team's software modules in simulated traffic situations since the beginning of the year. The team expects to move into full-time testing and iterative improvement by the end of March.
Junior's name is not only an implicit homage to its predecessor, but also to Stanford University's namesake, Leland Stanford Jr. Carrying this sense of history, Junior will set out to make technology history of its own and pave the way to a future where autonomous cars can make driving safer, more accessible and more efficient. Self-driving cars could give drivers newfound free time.
"You could claim that moving from pixelated perception, where the robot looks at sensor data, to understanding and predicting the environment is a Holy Grail of artificial intelligence," says Thrun.
David Orenstein | EurekAlert!
The TU Ilmenau develops tomorrow’s chip technology today
27.04.2017 | Technische Universität Ilmenau
Five developments for improved data exploitation
19.04.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences