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Stephen Heuser, a reporter for the Globe, covers biotechnology, medical devices, and the life-science industry.
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Toward autonomous cars
The winner of the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge sees the coming of super cruise control technology for cars in the coming decade.
Sebastian Thrun, director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University, said the same robotic technologies and computer software programs that enabled Stanford's autonomous sports utility vehicle Stanley to win the race of pre-programmed vehicles through the desert could help save lives and unclog traffic on highways.
"The goal is not to replace human driving but to augment human driving," Thrun told the MIT Emerging Technologies conference this afternoon.
Bemoaning the US highway system is "massively beyond capacity," with the average American spending 1.25 hours a day in traffic, Thrun said the situation could be improved by "stabilizing technology" that would organize cars into convoys where they would be programmed to travel faster but stay set distances away from one another.
Such technology could also improve safety, said Thrun, who noted that more than 40,000 people a year die on American roads.
Thrun said Stanley, the pre-programmed Stanford vehicle, won last year's desert race to Primm, Nev., from Barstow, Calif., "where Kill Bill II was filmed," by following a sequence of "bread crumbs" based on the global positioning system. The race was sponsored by Darpa, the Pentagon's research arm.
"MIT didn't even survive the selection round," Thrun said, eliciting some laughter from his audience in Kresge Auditorium.
(By Robert Weisman, Globe staff)