System offers drivers a robot 'co-pilot'

July 13, 2012 at 6:50 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 13 (UPI) -- Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they've developed an automatic "intelligent co-pilot" for cars that can help drivers avoid obstacles.

The system can cause a vehicle to steer itself automatically around an obstacle, transitioning control back to the driver once the danger has passed, an MIT release said Friday.

The semiautonomous safety system uses an onboard camera and laser rangefinder to identify hazards in a vehicle's environment and identify safe zones to avoid such hazards such as debris on the road or other cars on a roadway.

The system allows a driver to control the vehicle as usual, taking the wheel only when a driver is about to move out of what the system considers a safe zone, the researchers said.

"The real innovation is enabling the car to share [control] with you," Sterling Anderson, a doctoral student in the department of mechanical engineering said. "If you want to drive, it'll just ... make sure you don't hit anything."

The researchers say they've run more than 1,200 trials of the system, with few collisions -- most of which occurred when glitches in the vehicle's camera failed to identify an obstacle.

For the most part, the system has successfully helped drivers avoid collisions, they said.

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