This self-driving car can navigate unmapped roads

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May 14, 2018
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Researchers from MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have built an innovative new system that enables self-driving cars to drive on the unmapped country road without the need for 3D maps. Named ‘MapLite’, the system combines GPS data with a series of high-tech sensors that accurately observe the road conditions. This allowed the team to autonomously drive on multiple unpaved country roads in Devens, Massachusetts and reliably detect the road more than 100 feet in advance.

Daniela Rus, Director of CSAIL at MIT said in a statement,

“Cars use these maps to know where they are and what to do in the presence of new obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars. The need for dense 3D maps limits the places where autonomous cars can operate.”

MIT explains how the system is able to work without 3D maps,

MapLite uses sensors for all aspects of navigation, based on GPS data only to obtain a rough estimate of the car’s location. The system first establishes both a final destination and what researchers call a “local navigation objective, which must be in view of the automobile. Their perception sensors then generate a path to reach that point, using LIDAR to estimate the location of the edges of the road. MapLite can do this without physical markings on the road by making basic assumptions about how the road will be relatively flatter than the surrounding areas.”

In tests on unmarked country roads in Devens, Massachusetts. The researchers were able to get the car to navigate along a 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) stretch without human intervention. Their results will be presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Brisbane, Australia, at the end of this month.

However, for now, the challenge is to expand the diversity of road types the system can handle. It currently struggles with rapid changes in elevations like you would see on mountain roads. Additionally, it is adding the ability to recognize lane markings and road signs so it can follow complex traffic patterns.

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