Like the US, UK and many other parts of the world, China is very excited about the prospect of driverless cars ferrying people to and from work and providing a much safer roadway for everyone to drive on. Chinese search giant Baidu recently announced a partnership with German automotive firm BMW to further develop automated cars in the country. In short, China loves driverless. Which is why it recently held its sixth hackathon for driverless cars, competing some of the country’s best against one another to see which is top dog.
The competition, named Future Challenge 2014, saw 20 universities from around the country bring their specially developed, autonomous vehicles to play. Those competing in the contest were challenged to design and build a car that could make its way around a simulated city, featuring roadways, multiple carriageways, corners, turns, all guided just by the onboard computer.That of course meant that lasers, radar and all sorts of other clever technologies were used to make them safe enough to make it around the course at a reasonable speed, with the best and fastest vehicles awarded prizes at the end of the event.
All in all, the course was around 15KM long and sent the cars around the edge of a local lake. Many of the vehicles did make it around the track very well, being awarded points for safety, smoothness of the ride and stability. However, while they were all capable of traversing the straight and clear roadways at a reasonable speed, they bogged down a bit when obstacles were thrown into the mix. For example, a simple S-bend made from cones caused the cars to come to a near complete stop to navigate their way around them.
This in its own right is quite an achievement, as with no human interventiuon the vehicles were able to figure out how to get around them, but it does mean that it’s going to be some time yet before we can really expect driverless vehicles (or at the very least, Chinesee ones) to provide a real alternative to human piloted vehicles.
This is perhaps a little disappointing, considering we recently looked at Audi’s piloted RS7 going around a German high-speed raceway, achieving a time that would have been respectable for a professional driver. So driving at speed with autonomy is possible, it just seems that when you throw obstacles in the way, things become difficult.
Of course the same goes for human drivers there, so that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It’s also important to remember that these cars were developed by students, not by multi-national corporations with billions in budget. That shows how far we’ve come when it comes to autonomous technology and how close we are to making it affordable for everyone.
Colour me excited.