Carnegie Mellon ties knot (again) with GM to build autonomous cars

General Motors and Carnegie Mellon University today said they would fund and build a $5 million lab that would focus on developing autonomous driving technologies.

The university and the car giant have a long history of working on driverless technology.  You may recall that the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Racing team won first place and $2 million in a GM SUV at the DARPA Urban Challenge last Fall. The Urban Challenge features autonomous ground vehicles maneuvering in a mock city environment, executing simulated military supply missions while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections, and avoiding obstacles. The machines must also handle parallel parking and intersections with two- and four-way stops - situations that can confound many human driven vehicles.   

In addition GE has spent over $11 million since 2000 in similar Carnegie-partnered Collaborative Research Labs (CRL).The new CRL will focus on developing myriad autonomous technologies ranging from electronics, controls and software to wireless capabilities, digital mapping and robotics.  “Imagine being virtually chauffeured safely in your car while doing your e-mail, eating breakfast and watching the news, “ said Larry Burns, GM vice president of R&D and Strategic Planning.

Some of these technologies are well under way.  For example, effective navigation and  avoiding collisions is the are two technological standards in the DARPA Urban Challenge. Such autonomous cars must and did learn a range of behaviors involving both careful navigation and lane keeping, but also defensive driving. Vehicles in the Urban Challenge continuously monitored the path ahead for vehicles and obstacles and avoided collisions, and did not assume that other vehicle behavior is entirely predictable.  Cars  that showed excessive “stop and stare” delays were penalized, DARPA said. Of the original 89 cars that entered the challenge, 11 qualified for the finals.

The lab will operate as an extension of GM's Global Research & Development network and will be located at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Faculty from the university’s School of Computer Science and College of Engineering will participate.

Other autonomous car work is under way as well. Using technology it created for its own DARPA race car, MIT AgeLab is working on what it call its Aware Car. The Aware Car is black Volvo with  minicameras and infrared lights mounted above the steering wheel that monitor driver's eye and eyelid movements. Other sensor watch the driver's heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration looking for changes that the car’s brain should react to such as stopping the car should the driver experience heart pain.  Another monitor in the trunk monitors for lane drifting. Real-time data pops up on a backseat computer monitor, all of it stored on a hard drive in the trunk.

Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories has an autonomous Toyota Prius it showed off at a Grand Prix race this Spring. The car successfully complete the nearly 2 mile circuit which included 11 turns. 

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