A self-driving car named AutoNOMOS managed to navigate city streets and potholes and avoid car accidents in its recent 1,500-mile trip from U.S. border city of Nogales, Mexico, to Mexico City, as Nick Lavars wrote for Gizmag. AutoNOMOS is a 2010 Volkswagen Passat Variant modified to be autonomous, wrote Jeremy Hsu for IEEE Spectrum. Although he was not driving the car, Professor Raul Rojas of the University of Nevada, Reno, went along for the ride, according to an article by Mike Wolterbeek for University of Nevada, who notes that this is the longest-ever drive by an autonomous vehicle in Mexico.
AutoNOMOS had previously driven itself — with Rojas as a passenger — on a 190-mile round trip between Berlin and Leipzig, Germany. Rojas is also affiliated with Free University of Berlin. Although AutoNOMOS has also been tested on roads in the U.S. and Switzerland, having it drive in Mexico allowed it to deal with new challenges: The Mexican route involved driving through tropical regions, the Sonoran Desert, over mountains, and on a variety of roads, including freeways, narrow roads, urban roads (such as in Guadalajara), and in construction areas. Rojas said:
A significant issue is the absence of lane markings in long segments of the highway that have been just repaved after damaging Pacific thunderstorms over the summer.
The car, which is equipped with a highly precise GPS system and equipment that allows it to follow a predetermined route, drives on its own with other systems controlling speed, direction and braking. An antenna on the roof of the car receives GPS satellite signals, which a computer uses to calculate the car’s position.
In addition to the GPS unit, the car has nine videocameras, seven laser scanners, and seven radar units, but not all of the sensors are used simultaneously. The sensors can be switched on and off by researchers to test the car’s behavior under a variety of circumstances.
Researchers said the Mexican drive was successful, with AutoNOMOS managing to accelerate and brake with subtlety, and to avoid unnecessary steering. In fact, the self-driving car managed to smoothly pass human-driven vehicles at speeds of 80 mph.
Next Steps for Self-Driving Car
The next step for the team will be to work on technology that will make it possible for the car to know what human drivers are intending to do. The researchers also want to make the technology more compact (so its computer and sensors are not visible) and more affordable.
The team is preparing for an even longer road trip, from Reno, Nevada, to Mexico, City.
Here is a video showing AutoNOMOS in action: