Computers and sensors aid car in autonomous Berlin drive

Computers have helped a VW Passat drive 80km around the streets of Berlin with complete autonomy.

Designed by researchers from Freie Universität Berlin, the autonomous car — dubbed MadeInGermany — successfully navigated the busy streets of Berlin using onboard computers.

It is claimed the safety driver behind the steering wheel only monitored the car’s behaviour as it successfully drove the 20km route between the International Congress Center and Brandenburg Gate four times.

The vehicle is a conventional VW Passat that has been modified for ‘drive by wire’ by AutoNOMOs Labs, a university project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Electronic commands are passed on directly from the computer to the accelerator, the brakes and the steering wheel.

The developers said a series of sensors integrated into the car’s chassis provide information on all the cars or people on the street, which enable the car to avoid obstacles, adjust its speed or change lanes when necessary.

The car uses a GPS system and a map of the city to determine its position. It has three lasers at the front and three at the rear to detect any vehicle or pedestrian 360° around the car. The measurements are done by emitting laser pulses and the distance is determined based on the laser’s flight time.

A rotating laser scanner on top of the vehicle provides additional information — up to one million scan points per second of the 3D structure of the environment.

The car manages to centre itself in the middle of a lane using a black-and-white video camera behind the rear-view mirror, which detects the white lane strips.

Similarly, it successfully navigated 46 sets of traffic lights on its journey using two colour cameras that identify traffic lights and their state.

MadeInGermany will continue driving the streets of Berlin in coming months and the researchers at AutoNOMOs have a new goal of fully autonomous driving between European cities.