German researchers hopped in a car, turned it on, and didn’t touch the steering wheel for 1,500 miles through Mexico. The team says it’s the longest journey of its kind ever completed by an autonomous vehicle in the country.
The car is called AutoNOMOS, and it was developed by a team at Freie Universität Berlin. On Tuesday it reached Mexico City from the U.S. border, free of human help. We all know about the self-driving car road tests in places like the US, Europe, and East Asia, but we haven’t heard much about tests of this emerging technology in Latin America.
AutoNOMOS has actually been approved for test-driving in the streets of Berlin since 2011, and has driven in the US, Switzerland and Germany. But this test, which started from the border city Nogales and took a year to prepare, saw the car travel through the Sonoran Desert, tropical regions in Sinaloa, and the mountains region of Jalisco, traversing both highways, dense city streets, and unmarked, undeveloped roads.
The car is equipped with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras, radar, and GPS to avoid collisions and track its location. It also relied on maps generated by nearly 4,000 miles’ worth of highway data in both the U.S. and Mexico, which was done in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Reno. On this trip, potholes were one challenge to contend with–but after adjusting the AutoNOMOS driving parameters, the researchers say the vehicle “recognised all of the dangers on the motorways and reacted appropriately.”
While this feat is impressive, it’s small beans compared to what Delphi pulled off earlier this year: Its driverless Audi made the 3,400-mile journey from San Francisco to New York. (And technically, these dudes made the journey in a programmed self-driving minivan in 1995.)
But this week’s accomplishment in Mexico is huge. Robotic cars are finishing long-distance road tests in more parts of the world now. Getting them to consumers is something companies from Apple to Audi are scrambling to do, with most companies trying to hit that goal within the next five years.
Images via Freie Universität Berlin