UNR Prof takes self-driving VW through Mexico

Autonomous drive Mexico Rojas at Angel de la Indepencia-mainIn the scariest trick or treat department. Instead testing self-driving cars on the street with adults or even other cars. Google tested its LSV with live children of Google employees. Meanwhile Paul Rojas of the University of Nevada, Reno went 1,500 miles from Nogales to Mexico City – an autonomous Volkswagen Pasat just before La Dia Del Los Muertos.

The car, named Autonomos, is equipped with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras, seven radars and a highly precise GPS unit. Not all sensors are used simultaneously. The researchers can switch sensors on and off and can then test the behavior of the car under different circumstances. The roof antenna receives GPS satellite signals which a computer calculates the position of the car on the earth’s surface.

“This is a new challenge, a next step to learn and develop systems, to learn ways to solve new problems for driverless cars,” Rojas, who holds a joint appointment with Freie University of Berlin in Germany, said. “Most of the trip was highway, but there are many different issues such as construction sites, urban areas in between, potholes and so on. In the case of the Mexican highway, there is construction work and potholes in around 5 percent of the segments.”

The 2010 Volkswagen Passat Variant, drove 190 miles round trip between Berlin and Leipzig, Germany. A roof antenna receives GPS satellite signals which a computer calculates the position of the car on the earth’s surface.

Roja’s research team drove 4,000 miles gathering data in six days of driving through Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico. They then spent 10 days of computer processing and checking data in the lab to make sure the programs didn’t have any glitches.

The team started at Nogales. It covered 250 to 300 miles daily and week to arrive to Mexico City. 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 team took turns as safety drivers: one to watch the road and one to watch over the computer and navigation systems. The copilot can see on a screen what the car is planning to do in order to provide additional safety. Two team members followed in a support vehicle.

The team downloaded and backed-up the system every day to ensure accuracy. The autonomous system adjusts the vehicle’s speed to always maintain an adequate braking distance to vehicles and obstacles in front of it.

Experiences from this trip will be used as Rojas and his team continue to improve autonomous systems that will perform in any situation.

Rojas has been developing intelligent systems since 1986. His team of soccer robots at Freie University won the World Championship in 2004 and 2005. He is member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences and is the recipient of Berlin’s Technology Prize for 2008. He is also the recipient of the Gold Medal of Science and Technology of Mexico City. He attended the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City, where he majored in mathematics and physics.