Google rival set to rival Google's autonomous cars
Having followed Google's lead into smartglasses development, Baidu is now doing so with autonomous cars. The Chinese search firm says it has successfully tested a fully autonomous car under mixed road conditions, claiming it's the first in China to have done so.
"Fully autonomous driving under mixed road conditions is universally challenging, with complexity further heightened by Beijing's road conditions and unpredictable driver behavior," says senior vice president of Baidu and general manager of Baidu's autonomous driving business unit Wang Jing.
Baidu has been using a modified BMW 3 Series for the tests with its own "AutoBrain" autonomous driving technology. This includes highly automated driving (HAD) maps, which are said to record 3D road data to within a few centimeters of accuracy of the vehicle's positioning. Baidu says that it hopes to have mapped the majority of China's roads in this way within five to ten years.
In addition, the vehicle features positioning, detection and smart decision-making and control technologies. Its object recognition and environment perception technology allows the car to detect, recognize and follow other vehicles, recognize road lanes and gauge distance and velocity.
So far, the tests have been carried out on one 30-km (19-mi) route, beginning at Baidu's Beijing headquarters, before travelling via the G7 highway, Fifth Ring Road, Olympic Park and finishing back at Baidu HQ.
The tests required the car to carry out a set of driving actions and to respond appropriately to the driving environment. These included right turns, left turns and U-turns, deceleration when vehicles were detected ahead, lane changing, passing other cars, merging into traffic from on-ramps and exiting from off-ramps. The car also hit a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph) during the tests.
The company plans to develop its autonomous car program through the incremental introduction of new environments, rather than by simply teaching its cars more autonomous actions.
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Any map intended for automotive vehicle use should be compiled and issued by the local authorities. It should be updated in real-time on a cellular basis. Obviously it should include all fixed features, such as speed limits, type of vehicles allowed, width and height restrictions etc. It should also include historical traffic densities and their consequent effects on traffic speeds on an hourly basis. Also included should be diversions around planned marches and processions etc. It should be a requirement that their occurrence and route being added to the map should be part of the granting of permission. Then there are ad hoc events such as road accidents, building fires, floods etc. With these situations the emergency response team should take over the site and decide on necessary alterations to traffic flow that may be necessary and such like (diversions should be pre-planned as a contingency).
The above lists of items are hardly definitive, they are off the top of my head, so to speak, but they suffice for now. If all onboard maps were as up to date as possible then autonomous vehicle control/driver assist systems, linked to sat-navs running off the same maps, then traffic would flow at the maximum speed legally possible. That it might deny the sat-nav companies 'a nice little earner' from the sale of map up-dates is just bad luck, but in my honest opinion, well deserved bad luck.
Having a standardised map will prove valuable when this fad for autonomous vehicles has died down and reality has at last raised its head. It is worth repeating that no autonomous vehicle design team should proceed any further before their Chief Financial Officer has read Nicholas Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan and considered its implications for such ventures. What we have to be careful of is the danger that having developed systems that facilitate safe traffic flow, we don't discard the many good bits that they will spawn as autonomous vehicles disappear to the graveyard for foolish notions that appear to be what they very definitely are not.