Israeli tech powers longest-ever driverless car journey

Delphi’s San Francisco-to-Manhattan autonomous vehicle adventure uses Mobileye’s Advanced Drive Assistance System

The Delphi Roadrunner driverless vehicle (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The Delphi Roadrunner driverless vehicle (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel’s Mobileye, maker of safety systems that alert drivers of dangers ahead, is likely to be an integral part of the driverless car future, to judge from the results of the longest-ever – and most successful – driverless car demonstration.

Completed last week, just in time for this week’s New York Auto Show, a driverless vehicle supplied by international car parts maker Delphi Automotive traversed the 3,000-odd miles from San Francisco to Manhattan in nine days, driving itself nearly the entire way – with Mobileye’s road safety detection system providing the “eyes” for the Roadrunner as it passed through cities, towns, deserts and forests, on its way to the big city.

The drive, according to Delphi, was the longest and most data-intensive autonomous car trip ever undertaken.

In previous tests, the company had successfully navigated its vehicle throughout Los Angeles and Las Vegas but it was time, said Jeff Owens, Delphi’s chief technology officer, “to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions. This drive will help us collect invaluable data in our quest to deliver the best automotive grade technologies on the market.”

For legal and safety reasons – and perhaps, because Delphi engineers were just a bit nervous – a team of human drivers followed the Roadrunner, keeping tabs on how it behaved in traffic and on the open road.

The nine-day trip traversed 15 states and the District of Columbia. Along the way, the vehicle encountered complex driving situations such as traffic circles, construction zones, bridges, tunnels, aggressive drivers and a variety of weather conditions.

Crucial to the success of the Roadrunner’s journey was the vehicle’s “eyes” — its radar, vision and Advanced Drive Assistance Systems (ADAS), most of which were supplied by Mobileye.

Now standard on many new car models, Mobileye’s system alerts drivers when they come too close to vehicles and pedestrians, or when they veer out of their lane, sending out a beep that gets the driver’s attention, and hopefully gets them to slow down.

New versions of the system can also detect cyclists, debris on the road, curbs, barriers and construction zones, and can also detect traffic lights and read road signs. The advanced version of the system – the one installed in the Roadrunner – is enabled by a number of forward-facing cameras and a number of low-cost radars.

Three cameras were installed in the Delphi vehicle, keeping the automatic self-driving vehicle away from potential dangers.

Currently, the system is available in 160 car models from 18 equipment manufacturers (car makers and first-tier original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, accessory companies). By the end of 2016, the company says, its advanced system will be available in 237 car models from 20 OEMs. Among the companies Mobileye already has a deal with are BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Peugeot, Volvo, Tesla, and truck manufacturers MAN SE, Scania, and IVECO.

“Our vehicle performed remarkably well during this drive, exceeding our expectations,” said Owens. “The knowledge obtained from this trip will help optimize our existing active safety products and accelerate our future product development, which will allow us to deliver unsurpassed automotive grade technologies to our customers.”

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