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Carnegie Mellon's Research into Smart Cars Earns the University A Spot in the National Automated Highway Systems Consortium
PITTSBURGH--Imagine driving down the highway in a car that's smarter than you are, on a roadway studded with sensors and other devices that guide your vehicle along so you never have to worry about being sleepy, lost or sick.
These fantastic concepts are teetering on the brink of reality, and Carnegie Mellon's smart vehicles, which include a blue Chevrolet van, a pair of camouflaged Army ambulances and a Pontiac minivan*, all known as Navlabs, are set to play a key role in their development.
On October 7, 1994, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $202-million, seven-year grant to the National Automated Highway Systems Consortium (NAHSC), a group of 40 organizations whose nine core entities include a group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon~s Robotics Institute.
The consortium has been charged with developing the prototype of an automated highway system (AHS) by 1997. An AHS is a roadway with dedicated lanes in which vehicles' steering, braking and throttling capabilities will be controlled by special sensors, computers and communication devices.
The Department of Transportation will provide 80 percent of the costs during the seven-year period of development, which includes the initial prototype demonstration. The consortium will provide the remaining funds.
Core members of the consortium include General Motors Corp., the U.S. Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Bechtel Group, Inc., Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc., Delco Products, Hughes Aircraft Co., University of California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), Carnegie Mellon and Lockheed Martin.
Four faculty members, including principal investigators Charles Thorpe and Dean Pomerleau, and Anthony Stentz and Martial Hebert, plus a cadre of 15 graduate students, will be working on the automated highway project. Other key faculty are involved as well. School of Computer Science Dean Raj Reddy will sit on a consortium program steering board and Robotics Institute Director Takeo Kanade will be a member of the consortium~s management oversight committee.
"Our role," says Thorpe, "is to develop critical enabling technologies--computer algorithms, sensors, and vehicle control strategy through our strength in research. Over the years, we have attacked a wide variety of problems--on and off road navigation, obstacle avoidance, autonomous parking, navigating intersections, following other vehicles planning our own routes by teleoperated remote control."
For nearly 10 years, the Navlab projects' prime funder has been the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which has contributed more than $10 million to the vision of autonomous vehicles. "ARPA has funded us continuously,~ says Thorpe. ~We couldn~t have done it without their programmatic and financial continuity."
"This is a perfect case of taking military technology and applying it to civilian uses," Pomerleau adds.
Although California probably will be the site of the prototype highway, Pomerleau believes some preliminary experiments will be done near Pittsburgh on an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "We'll need several vehicles and several miles of multi-lane roadway," he says. "We must push our systems to a higher level of reliability through extended testing in all weather, times of day and traffic conditions."
*The Pontiac minivan was donated to Carnegie Mellon by Delco Products.
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