Scientists are developing the next generation of robot-driven
cars and predict they could be shuttling humans around by the
year 2030, a conference was told.
The first wave of intelligent robot cars, capable of understanding
and reacting to the world around them, will be tested this November
in a competition run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects
Scientists are developing vehicles which will not only be driven
by robots independently, but will be able to operate in a simulated
"In the past it was sufficient for a vehicle just to perceive
the environment, said Sebastian Thrun, an associate professor
of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University.
"The new challenge will be to understand the environment.
The robot must be able to recognize another car, to understand
that it is moving and that it will interact with it as it gets
Thrun, who was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement
of Science annual meeting in San Francisco, is a member of the
Stanford team participating in the DARPA competition, which will
take place on November 3.
Stanford's entrant "Junior" is a converted 2006 Volkswagen
Passat whose steering, throttle and brakes all have been modified
by engineers to be completely computer-controllable.
An array of lasers fitted on the car bumpers, radar and global
positioning systems feed data into the on-board computer to determine
its location and position.
Thrun predicted that leaps in artificial intelligence would lead
to driverless cars on the roads by 2030.
"Today we can drive about 100 miles (160 kilometers) before
human assistance is necessary, by 2010 I expect this to go 1,000
miles (1,160 kilometers), by 2020 up to a million miles (1.6 million
kilometers)," he said.
"By 2030 you'll be able to see them on the highway, with
a driving reliability that will exceed humans by orders of magnitude.
"We believe this technology will affect all of us. It is
going to have enormous significance for people who can't drive
because of disabilities or because they are ill or impaired."
Thrun said he believed robot-driven vehicles would be deployed
in war zones before they are seen in everyday civilian environments.
"I think they'll be on the battlefield by around 2015,"
he said. "It is going to make sense to use them in situations
such as convoys, or in hostile environments where there is danger