Going on Auto Pilot

Cameras, Computers and Magnetometers Could Lead Driverless Cars Down a Highway of the Future

by Bill Stone

Engineers from Honda R&D North America are joining researchers from the UC's Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways program (PATH) to build a computer-controlled car that uses video cameras to avoid obstacles and keep to its own lane.

The goal of the project, now underway at the Richmond Field Station, is to produce a demonstration of some Automated Highway System capabilities by August 1997.

In the demonstration, two test cars will follow each other down a stretch of highway completely under computer control, 'seeing' the lane markings using video cameras and magnetometers to detect an obstacle and safely steer around it. The test drivers will sit behind the wheel, hands folded, legs crossed, as the cars drive themselves.

Two Honda Accords have arrived at the field station. The throttle, steering and braking systems are being tested, and the cameras, computers, magnetometers and software are being installed.

Honda R&D North America is supplying three 1996 Accords, each with a laser range finder and automatically controlled steering, throttle and braking systems. The third car will be a backup vehicle.

The project is being led by PATH project manager Daniel M. Empey and principal engineer Damon Delorenzis of the Honda research team in Torrance, Calif.

Equipment being added to the cars includes machine vision systems (each consisting of three Sony video cameras linked by computer), magnetometers and vehicle control computers. PATH is supplying the vision system software, as well as the PATH-developed magnetic sensing system that will enable each car to know its velocity and location„to the inch -- using magnetometers that sense magnetic markers embedded in the roadway. PATH also will provide the cars' control software and communication system.

The Honda-PATH Automated Highway System demonstration planned for August 1997„one of several demonstrations by teams from across the country -- will comprise four maneuvers:

1. The vehicles will operate independent of human control, using the PATH-developed stereo vision system for lane tracking and the vision system and Honda Laser radar for longitudinal control. The vehicles will at first be more than 330 feet apart.

2. Using the sensors, and still operating independently, the vehicles will individually see and avoid obstacles.

3. The vehicles will close to a shorter gap for an adaptive cruise control operation, in which they will stay at a constant distance from each other and maintain speed without intervehicular communication.

4. The vehicles will close to 65 feet or less and begin vehicle-to-vehicle communication using PATH- developed software with commercially available wireless local area network (LAN) technology. Lane tracking will be done by the vision system in conjunction with PATH's magnetic-sensor technology. Longitudinal control will be by the Honda laser range finder, with the PATH stereo vision system as a backup.

Two engineers from Honda R&D are working with Empey, as are assistant development engineer for vehicle control systems Hung Pham; Camillo Taylor, postdoctoral researcher for vision system development; Berkeley electrical engineering and computer science professor Jitendra Malik; and post-doctoral researchers Jana Kosecka (vehicle control systems) and Philip Mclauchlan (vision software).

The California PATH program, founded in 1986, is a joint venture of UC, Caltrans, industry and private academic institutions, with the mission of applying technology to increase highway capacity and reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, crash rates and energy consumption.


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