The journey of 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) covered Eastern Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Gobi Desert. Four electric cars without drivers successfully completed the test ride from Italy to China, a modern version of the journey of Marco Polo, with his arrival on Thursday at the Shanghai Expo.
Electric cars are equipped with four scanners that run on solar energy and seven video cameras in combination to detect and avoid obstacles, are part of an experiment aimed at improving road safety and improve automotive technology.
The sensors in electric vehicles under demanding conditions allowed them to circumvent the road, traffic and weather, while collecting a series of data to be analyzed for further research, a study sponsored by the European Research Council.
“We did not know the route, I mean how were the roads and whether they would be favorable, or whether there would be little, medium or heavy traffic, drivers sane or crazy, so we could find everything,” said Isabella Fredriga, research engineer on the project .
Although electric cars were not carrying conductor or map, carried inside to researchers as passengers in emergencies. The experimenters had to intervene a few times: when the electric vehicles were in a traffic jam in Moscow and tolls.
The project did not use maps despite cross remote regions of Siberia and China. At one point, one of the trucks stopped to take a flyer calling for hitchhiking.
A computerized vision system, called GOLD (acronym in English for Generic Obstacle Detector and Trails), analyzed the information from the sensors to automatically adjust the speed and direction of vehicles.
“This flyer is controlled by the PC (laptop). So the PC sends a command and moves the steering wheel, and we can follow the path, take turns and avoid obstacles with this,” said Alberto Broggi, of Vislab in the Italian University of Parma, the project’s research director.
“The idea was to make a long journey across continents, different countries, different climates, different traffic conditions, different infrastructure,” he said. “So we could face a large number of situations to test the system.” The technology used to explore ways to complement the skills of drivers.
Electric vehicle with lithium batteries do not emit CO2, provided that electricity comes from renewables such as wind, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal or thermal. Wind turbines can supply electricity to electric vehicles, which in future will also serve to store and regulate the electricity intermittent wind energy sector.