While Google makes headlines with its driverless car and even manages to lobby Nevada to legalize driverless cars on the public road – China quietly pushes ahead on its own.
China Daily reports, that on the 14th of July a Hongqui HQ3 travelled 286km in three hours 20 minutes without a driver at the wheel on an expressway linking Changsha and Wuhan, the capitals of Hunan and Hubei provinces.
The car, a Hongqi HQ3 with full intellectual property rights developed by the National University of Defense Technology, traveled in daytime, taking only three hours and 20 minutes to finish its trip under full computer and sensor control.
“We only set a maximum speed and then left everything to the car itself,” said Dai Bin, a professor in the research team.
“It knew the speed limits, traffic patterns, lane changes and roads using video cameras and radar sensors to detect other cars. It was all controlled by a command center in the trunk,” Dai said.
The car encountered several complicated situations that made the test even more difficult.
“We had fog and thundershowers as well as the complex route and unclear lane markings in some sections,” he added.
He noted that the car was not equipped with GPS, but relied solely on its sensors and lasers to detect the surrounding environment and choose the correct route.
The test also showed the car could cope with potential dangers from other vehicles such as abrupt lane changes.
“The driverless car is much safer because it reacts more quickly than humans. It can respond in 40 milliseconds while human needs at least 500 ms.”
During its trip, the driverless car overtook other cars 67 times and had an average speed of 87 kilometers an hour, according to the research team.
Technical details are limited but it is claimed that GPS wasn’t used to navigate the car and it relied on its sensors not only to stay on the road but to work out which road to stay on. Unlike Google’s the Chinese driverless car uses computer vision to navigate aided by laser range finders. As a result it cannot drive and night and so the entire journey had to be completed during daylight. It also encountered some problems with fog and indistinct road markings. It could be argued that relying on computer vision is a more sophisticated approach than using GPS and laser range finders but without more information it is difficult to be sure. As well as just driving in a single lane the car overtook other cars a reported 67 times at an average of 87km/h.
The project isn’t over and now they are co-operating with China’s First Auto Works to produce an even better and perhaps commercial version.