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VW Raises the Bar for Self-Driving Vehicles 177

Old Man Kensey writes "According to the UK Daily Mail, VW has produced a prototype Golf (code-named "53 plus 1" in a reference to Herbie the Love Bug) that successfully steers and accelerates itself at speeds up to 150 MPH on tracks designed on the spot without pre-programming. It sounds almost too good to be true given some of the problems CMU's prototype has had over the years, but perhaps VW has learned from and extended CMU's research (and within-an-inch GPS positioning probably helps too)."
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VW Raises the Bar for Self-Driving Vehicles

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  • No signal (Score:2, Funny)

    by andyck ( 924707 )
    car: No GPS signal driver: OHHHH SHITTT car: Grab the wheel if you want to live!
  • Daily Mail (Score:3, Informative)

    by Duds ( 100634 ) <`dudley' `at' `'> on Sunday July 02, 2006 @05:55AM (#15645175) Homepage Journal
    Just a note to point out the Daily Mail is roughly half a step about the National Inquirer in terms of credability, so this one could be entirely fictional.
    • Re:Daily Mail (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joe 155 ( 937621 )
      whilst I don't know what the National Inquirer's credibility is like I would highly doubt if the Mail would publish something which is truely fictional. They do exagerate a few things and love to complain about anything, but I've never seen an out and out lie in the paper
      • Re:Daily Mail (Score:5, Informative)

        by LordSnooty ( 853791 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:20AM (#15645219)
        You're not familiar with Sunday paper journalism in the UK? Nearly every title will, every week, feature some kind of "exclusive" blue-sky puff-piece about a "new" technology or scientific "breakthrough" which is invariably based on studies or announcements made months ago, or is in fact a highly speculative "what-if?" prediction. If the story contains the sentence, "scientist/engineers predict that in ten years' time...", then you know it's probably not worth reading for ten years.
        • It's usually 5 years in my experience..

          "Scientists predict that the pill to cure cancer will be available in about 5 years"
          "Scientists predict that the flying car will be available in the shops in about 5 years"
          etc. etc.

          Papers like the daily mail take a few random facts and build an entire mythology around them... unfortunately they don't just do it for their science pieces - the daily mail is legendary for doing it with political issues too (google for the 'daily mail island' sketch.. still as funny now as
      • It would be useful to remember that this is the same paper that pushed the MMR Jab issue; telling people that it would give kids autism and bowel diseases.

        A healthly amount of skepticism when dealing with the Daily Mail would be wise.
    • Re:Daily Mail (Score:4, Informative)

      by O0o0Oblubb!O0o0O ( 526718 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:19AM (#15645216) Homepage
      German news magazine "Der Spiegel" has a pretty high credibility and they carry the same story:,1518,424288,0 0.html []

      Unfortunately, the article does not seem to available in English.

      • Re:Daily Mail (Score:5, Informative)

        by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <.moc.krahsehtwaj. .ta. .todhsals.> on Sunday July 02, 2006 @07:40AM (#15645337) Homepage Journal

        Well, in summary (I just read the Spiegel article), the car in question first learns the track based on traffic cones. Actually, the only thing this cars knows are traffic cones. A program then runs on the collected data and calculates the "ideal" path. When the finanlly activate the "racing mode", the car "simply" drives the studied track and that *blindly*. There need not to be any traffic cones, and it will not stop if something unexpected happens (so if a rabbit jumps in it's way, the researches will have rabbit for dinner) It does react a bit on the data from the sensors in the racing mode, but it's more for avoiding small variations in the track like a wet spot.

        The car itself is pretty much a standard Golf GTI 2.0 Turbo (200HP) and the only thing they changed was stronger braking. They use the default sensors to make the program learn. Also, in the Spiegel article, there is not any mention of GPS.

        Oh, and the research isn't intended to make auto-driving cars for you and me. They want to create a way that cars do exactly the same test runs on test-tracks to check the settings of the car. The results would be more reproductible. If anything, this tech is to put test-drivers out of work ;-)

        They also mention that some of the tech was derived from a Touareg that they used in a competition of the US Defense Department in the Nevada desert. However, that one had completely different goals.

        I'm sorry that I didn't translate the whole thing, but it was just too long.

  • Research (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:02AM (#15645182) Homepage
    This is a good illustration of why research funded by a corperation is more likely to achieve results than that of academics. Academics are free to pursue whatever is most interesting as they work, and it is ok to get off on a tangent as long as some papers come out of it. However if you work for a company you need to get results, hence this car. Of course this model doesn't work quite as well for theoretical physics, but well enough for the computer science. I suspect we would have AI already if it could be turned directly into a product.
    • Re:Research (Score:5, Informative)

      by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:20AM (#15645218)
      Not exactly... Who do you think funds the academics?

      It's true that academics can pursue riskier, more speculative areas of research. It's cost-effective for them to do so; they've got less overhead and grad students are cheap, and success criteria is different than for businesses -- publish a bunch of well-regarded, widely-cited papers, and you're in good shape. (you never need to earn back the investment money)

      However, academics get their money from businesses and funding agencies who do have their eye on the bottom line. If an academic doesn't work on something that they feel is relevant (or abandons research they're funded to do in order to work on something cooler) then the money dries up really fast.

      I've been on both sides of this (currently funder, formerly fundee) and I can tell you without doubt that academic research is a market, just like everything else.

    • This is no science. This is technology.
    • Re:Research (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ruins ( 981807 )
      The VW project sits on a few different fields of research under the umbrella term "Robotics", such as mobile robotics (path planning, SLAM, range sensor, scan matching), computer vision (getting meaning from video, tracking objects visually) and machine learning (training various software systems based on learning data, like road colour for example). All these fields have plenty of open problems and many problems that can only be solved in "controlled", a.k.a. near-trivial, environments.

      Just a few points ab
  • Oiled (Score:4, Funny)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:07AM (#15645192) Journal
    VW Raises the Bar for Self-Driving Vehicles

    Self-Driving Vehicle promptly hits the bar, gets thoroughly oiled and rolls off into the red light district looking for a "service".

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:08AM (#15645193)
    lettin a car let me drive. The article goes on to state an experience in 1991:

    Everything worked perfectly until Pomerleau got to a bridge. The Humvee swerved dangerously, and he was forced to grab the wheel. It took him weeks of analyzing the data to figure out what had gone wrong: When he was "teaching" the car to drive, he had been on roads with grass alongside them. The computer had determined that this was among the most important factors in staying on the road: Keep the grass at a certain distance and all will be well. When the grass suddenly disappeared, the computer panicked.

    And that bug is probably fixed by now, but the problem is, how do we determine we worked out all the bugs? We can't even do that with Linux/Windows/Anything. The closest we come to that in the OS world is a microkernel with only a few thousands lines of code and controlled input.

    But how do we ever determine a program that learns and is subject to varying, uncontrolled data inputs is bug free? You can't and I wouldn't want to see the first literal blue screen of death when it happens.

    I don't want to sound like a luddite, but the article mentions that planes have been flying autopilot (did they forget to mention landing/taking off is still done by the pilot) since the 1970s. But I believe we'll have flying cars before self-driving* cars because the problem is several hundreds of a magnitude easier in empty 3D space where all you have to do is stay high enough off the ground and avoid collisions via radar/whatnot.

    *The only way is I see anything coming close to a self-driving car is on highways where lanes get marked magnetically and driving problem gets reduce to the car having to stay X feet behind the car in front of it.
    • Duh, I meant to say I don't feel comfortable letting a car drive me. Yes, I'm up to late as it is.
    • by achesterase ( 918544 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:33AM (#15645244)
      Just for your info, planes have been landing themselves for ages. Autoland is used routinely in very low visibility conditions where it would not otherwise be legal to land the aircraft manually, unless you were using special equipment like a HUGS. If you're interested on learning more, search for Cat III autoland in Google..
      • But the pilot is still paying attention. If he isn't, he's got a copilot and maybe others backing him up, keeping him honest. If they are all sleeping or goofing off, that just shouldn't happen if the crew is at all professional.

        In the world of private automobiles, it would be different. The better the car got at driving itself, the more likely the "driver" would focus all his attention on something incompatible with monitoring the car. Just compare drivers of stick and automatic. The stick drivers mus
    • Comparing a computer driving system to windows is a bad idea.
      Firstly, Windows is an operating system. That means every day hundreds of brand new programs are written for it that have the possibility of screwing each other, and the system, up. If windows was only capable of running one program (Office, probably), the crash rate would go down to 1/1000000 (which, I believe, is better than human drivers)
      Secondly, when windows crashes nobody DIES. Compare car-driving programs to programs that run in hospitals
    • I understand where you are coming from, but evidence is that humans aren't very good either. And having several million cars out there experimenting with this new tech might reduce the odds of a problem to less than that of a human driver.

      Considering many of the drivers round here, I'd rather they used a cyberchauffeur...

      (Incidently, the Chauffeur were 'Brigands in bands, who, about 1793, pillaged, burned, and killed in parts of France; -- so called because they used to burn the feet of their victims to ex
      • Chauffeur is french for "to heat"
        In the first times of railroads, the driver had to keep the engine hot, hence the name.

        The fact that this Brigand was called Chauffeur as well is coincidental.
      • The problem is, is that with human error, you can always just blame it on the person. With computer controller automobiles, even 100 accidents a year (in the entire US) would be enough to keep the lawyers busy, and probably keeping the auto companies from making a venture like this profitable. Just think of how many accidents happen when it's icy. Now imagine if the auto companies had to pay for even a fraction of the accidents, because it was "their fault".
        • I might be able to save some money by buying a car that isn't programmed for icy conditions. Then I could just stay home on icy days. Why buy a car that's overengineered since it only ices here once or twice a year? The auto company would be immune if it did ice up and I did take the car for a spin.
    • The problem you mention, that you don't know exactly how the system will behave under all possible conditions, is a problem we have with all computer programs, especially those that include learning. On the other hand, this is a problem we have with humans as well. The reason (well, one of them) that we let humans drive is that we have done such extensive testing with humans driving, to see under which conditions they can drive safely and under which conditions the "behave unexpectedly" (icy roads, fog, wei
  • So how long until the car drives you home if you've hit the bar too hard ?

    No more soft drinks for the "designated driver".
  • Just for race tracks (Score:5, Informative)

    by froh42 ( 929696 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:16AM (#15645210)
    I have just read about 53+1 the other day (can't rembember where, tough) 53+1 is specialized on slalom courses and can navigate them faster than a human driver. The car first runs the course very slowly scanning it, then it has to pause for half an hour when a special software optimizes steering, braking and acceleration points and afterwards it goes around the course faster than a real driver could. The system is NOT flexible, for example when a human suddenly is on the track on the fast lap it will blissfully ignore the humans existance and accelerate right through the human and create quite a mess. The usage seems to be exactly repeatable driving for car or tyre development. Froh
    • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Sunday July 02, 2006 @07:05AM (#15645283) Homepage
      ssh... you're dangerously close to adding facts to this discussion. Stop it! This is slashdot!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually that's exactly what the 53+1 is all about: racing the same racetrack again and again and again.
      The purpose of the 53+1 is not autonomous driving. The goal was to create a platform for testing new parts
      (new tires, brakes, etc.). In order to truly compare the performance of those parts you need a system that
      can drive the same course over and over in the most efficient way.

      The goal is not autonomous driving but obtaining reproduceable results on testing tracks.
      (There's a german article that explains t
      • Driving is so much easier when you own the road, as VW probably does. That is very disappointing additional information. This vehicle wouldn't even do well on a race course with other drivers. It would be the ultimate selfish road hog. Actually, I have met drivers like that, who expect the rest of us to look out for them while they do as they please, but you can't have 2 drivers/autodrive-cars on the same road at the same time.

        So this car is of use to people who have a private road and make the same tr
  • In Soviet Russia, the car drives you
  • It seems like the GPS cones positions are stored in some database, and then the Golf will drive itself by comparing its position with the positions of the cones. That's nice of course, but hardly a big breakthrough. Still far away from real-life driving, and little to do with CMU, where the driving is more or less real.

  • by reset_button ( 903303 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:59AM (#15645275)
    53 plus 1
    ...the answer is 54.
  • For more information about the challenges in achieving a true driversless car check this Wikipedia Article []
  • One of the voodoo priests in Count Zero ( -3748552-0791032?v=glance&n=266239 []) has a Mercedes limousine that drives itself.
  • Even if it works. Well, it reduces driver boredom and allows them to do something else. That's it. It might in the long distant future also reduce accident rates. However it doesn't solve any of the other problems associated with car usage; expense, pollution and congestion.

    You're going to be spending just as much money on the vehicle, using just as much energy, producing just as much pollution and spending just as much time stuck in traffic.

    While automated driving is cool and interesting, it's not revoluti
    • by Old Man Kensey ( 5209 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @01:54PM (#15646368) Homepage
      Actually, you're wrong. Computer systems working properly (which is the big sticking point) can drive the car in a more efficient manner that will minimize wear. You know how teenagers love to gun it coming out of a light? Hello engine wear. Or aggressive drivers trying to jump forward into a spot that closes up so they have to slam on the brakes -- they're wasting gas, wearing out their brakes, wearing out engine parts... to say nothing of the time they go to panic-stop and suddenly nothing happens because a brake line sprung a leak from overuse.

      The holy grail is cars that talk to each other to get around more efficiently yet. If the traffic up ahead narrows from four lanes to two because of construction, and car computers can talk to each other and say "Hey, you're two miles back but get ready for this", then orderly traffic flow can be maintained as the cars merge into the remaining lanes and decelerate. This in turn saves gas, etc.

      Hell, think how much money you'd save if you car just automatically avoided potholes if it could. Tires, struts, shocks, suspension, all those would last much longer. Look at the figures on how much money it costs drivers annually in a city like Baltimore that's infested with chuckholed roads.

  • by nbannerman ( 974715 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @08:55AM (#15645460)
    Travelling at 150mph on a circuit is easy. Well, relatively anyways.

    Now if they managed to get this car travelling at 20mph down a city street during rush hour, we'd really have something useful on our hands.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm impressed. But a self-driving car on an empty track is a million miles away from the everyday driving conditions we encounter.
  • hmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by MerrickStar ( 981213 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @09:40AM (#15645557)
    Does this mean we won't be seeing the "Drivers wanted" slogan anymore?
    This would imply to me that the position has been filled.
  • As a Passat Owner and Driver since 1999 and the wife has a Jetta from 1998, let me comment on the reliability and build quality of VW products.

    They suck.

    That said, these jokers can't even design an ABS controller that lasts 5 years. How the hell do they think that they're QUALIFIED to design a life critical componant like this?
    • "How the hell do they think that they're QUALIFIED to design a life critical componant like this?"

      How is calculating the fastest route round a cone layed out track "life critical"?

    • They're generally seen as very reliable cars. Not Toyota or Honda quality, but very good nevertheless. I own an Audi A3 (basically a rebranded Golf with better interiors), reaching now 200 000km and running real fine with no events besides normal maintenance except for a clutch spring failure at 85 000km.
  • Self-driving is nice, but how about the basics like:

    Fixing glove box doors that break at the hinge constantly.

    Making window regulator clamps out of metal instead of plastic so the window doesn't fall into the door.

    Using MAF sensors that last longer than 30,000 miles.

    Using O2 sensors that last longer than the previously mentioned MAF sensors.

    Engineering sunvisors with built-in lights that stay working (wires too short so they break in the headliner).

    Assembling 2.0L engines so they don't use 3 quarts of oil e
    • I have a 1970 VW Bug, and it has 370K miles on the body running gear and transmission. The engine has about 120K on it, some parts reused from the original, such as the carburator and manifold. Builder got a big laugh when he put the motor together, used the big barrels and pistons, engine puts out more power than stock, they didn't tell me. Car pulls away from stoplight with suprising vigor, much to the suprise of those behind that were plotting their sweeping pass only to be denied.
      It does need a clutch,
    • Or 5.

      Just one question - you know an awful lot about specific VW problems. Do you keep buying new VW's so you can find out more? Is there some other, darker problem you'd like to discuss?

      • I was wondering about this, too. With that many problems, I will be sure to steer clear of newer VW products, I think. My current daily driver is a 1994 Ford Ranger XLT 4-banger, with 150,000+ miles on it. I have yet to replace the MAF sensor or the O2 sensors (still pass with flying colors at inspection), and I certainly don't burn anywhere near as much oil. One of the other things I like about my lil' pickup is that the oil filter (Motorcraft F1-A) is the same filter as the one on my 1979 Bronco (which wi
    • ...yeah, because AI programmers are really gonna quit their jobs and carreers to fix car window mechanisms.

  • 1 inch GPS (Score:5, Informative)

    by thogard ( 43403 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @11:48AM (#15645927) Homepage
    As far as I know that requires a DPGS like system on the track with extra real time feedback to the car.
    So they are cheating if you consider the real world.

    I've been in a car that could drive its self on one very well surveyed road. If it got confused it would beep and assume the human was in control within a second. The internal guidance system alone cost over 1/3 of a million dollars and it used several different GPS systems to cross check the fiber gyro.

    The only way cars are going to take over for driving the mini-van in place of the drive soccer mom is if there is a serious attempt to clean up the road markings. This means no more optional parking on the side as a road will either be a parking spot or a lane. Signs will need to be redone and cleaned up. The white lines must be far more precise than they are now and more places will need to deal with the yellow centerline (which has now been dropped in the EU even though its the cheapest road safety device ever)

    Things have gone a long way. 2 decades ago I had a system that would indicate that a steering adjustment needed to be done. A decade ago there was Miata convertible that could maintain road position and deal with deer. This year we have a VW that can avoid traffic cones. Maybe in a decade we can see a car that can avoid the phone talking, breakfast eating SUV driver.
  • "VW has produced a prototype Golf ... that successfully steers and accelerates itself at speeds up to 150 MPH...
    The're going to need to raise the bar a lot more if it doesn't brake yet!
  • Speeding tickets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davidc ( 91400 ) <> on Sunday July 02, 2006 @12:31PM (#15646068)
    This is surely the perfect car. I can just imagine the scene:

    Car pulled over by the highway patrol for doing 150 in a 65 zone.
    Officer is puzzled by the fact that the only person in the car is asleep, in the back seat.
    "Did you know what speed you were doing, sir?"
    "Huh, um, wha? Oh - the car was driving, Officer".

    Car has to appear in court next Wednesday.
  • I have to state you can either have a completely automated system, or a completely human driven system, the two will not mix. And even then, this technology is too expensive to implement.

    I don't understand why car companies are wasting time and money in developing self driven cars. While there might be useful purposes for the technology, such as "off-world" exploration, or for use in the military, there will never come a time when we turn over control of our cars to a computer and sit back and enjoy the r
  • every time i see anything autonomous ground vehicle related, everyone goes off about how fantastic carnegie mellon university is while completely ignoring the fact that sebastian thrun's team at *STANFORD* won GC2. yes, i realize that thrun was red's student for a long time, but when you compare the radically different approaches it's pretty clear that it's thrun's vision, leadership, and team which earned the win. since vw was part of thrun's team, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor that any autonomous c
  • As as another poster pointed out, lack of roadway sign and marking standards are a big issue. Fix that, and it would go a long way to fixing the issue in general.

    However, we have all the technology to enable such a vehicle, especially if we limit it to highway travel (where conditions tend to be less variable than surface streets). One such improvement for guidance would be a combination of active and passive "dots" lining the lanes. The passive ones could be simple rare-earth magnets. The active ones would

  • by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @09:31PM (#15647783) Homepage
    Over 1 million people are killed in automobile accidents each year globally, 43,000 in the USA. Far more are injured or maimed.

    Estimates for the costs of crashes range from 10 to 30 cents/mile, factoring in everything -- health, repairs, suffering -- which is more than the cost of gasoline or depreciation.

    It's now down to an engineering problem to build self-driving, crash-avoiding cars. It's the largest preventable cause of suffering and death we have.

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