Seattle streets run for the first time with self-driving cars fitted with artificial intelligence and stereo cameras
A driverless car is believed to have broken a new ground on Thursday in the Pacific north-west city of Seattle when it ran over a handrail at a street test course without the driver behind the wheel.
“People have been putting caution to the side for decades when it comes to drivers of automobiles,” said Brian Souter, chief technology officer of a startup called Roborace.
Roborace is building a team, working with the city of Seattle, to build a real race track on a former Boeing factory campus in the heart of the Pacific north-west, at Paine Field, in the suburb of Kent.
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Roborace is building on the work of Carnegie Mellon University, the racecourse in Spain’s Catalonia region and a venture by Chinese internet giant Tencent and internet radio company Sennheiser.
Roborace has introduced an eye-tracking software to its cars, which uses LiDAR sensors, to control swiveling mirrors that stop traffic on the track. Sennheiser says it has exclusive rights to supply the building microphone, which capture the sound of running over the handrail.
Souter told the Guardian that the hand rail was unlikely to be a warning to be careful. “The handrail acts as a compliance effort,” he said. “You are giving people a warning that this is a controlled environment. It is not like saying be careful when going through an intersection because there is a car coming or this is a construction zone.”
“People are going to learn to accept when, as a city, you put a sensor in there to warn drivers about the handrail, that these things are safe,” he said.
Roborace has a $60m investment from Audi, the commercial operations arm of the Volkswagen Group, and Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn, in addition to the Japanese mobile operator SoftBank, which just announced a $1bn investment in the operation.
The track will be used by real-world trials to develop the technologies in the racing cars that will race in races in 2018. Souter declined to say how far Roborace was away from the first race, but said: “I’m feeling very confident about the race in 2018, and I believe that we will make it and beat out the car being driven.”
He added: “The race is very important. But I’m not particularly concerned about who is going to win or lose. I’m more concerned about how you can solve the real issues, and what kind of help we can give the cities and the drivers. I feel we’ve solved those problems for the first time.”