An unmanned vehicle designed by Military Transportation University of the PLA (MTU) recently won top prize in the fourth Future Challenge, a contest for intelligent vehicles.
Unmanned military vehicle passes freeway test.[File photo]
The vehicle, a third generation prototype named "Fierce Lion 3", completed a 114-kilometer journey within 85 minutes, with a top speed of 105 kilometers per hour, making itself China's first unmanned vehicle to pass a freeway test.
Third party certification agencies, including National Natural Science Foundation and Beijing Institute of Technology deemed that the vehicle had successfully completed the journey with no human intervention, and its technology had reached a world-class standard.
Fierce Lion 3 was directed to complete a wide range of maneuvers on the freeway, including cruising in one lane, following traffic, changing lanes, passing slower traffic, and responding to human instructions.
The vehicle is equipped with an override system to allow human intervention, to prevent the vehicle from causing damage to the passengers or other vehicles in case of emergency.
The in-car computer system controlled the entire journey, including acceleration, braking, passing, and pulling up. The researchers did nothing but set the vehicle's destination coordinates.
During the trip, Fierce Lion 3 passed slower traffic 33 times. The autopilot system even once refrained from making a pass after the radar detected the rear traffic was coming in at too fast a speed to make the maneuver safe.
Observers said they saw the vehicle darting away, "as if an experienced driver was holding the wheel."
The vehicle was equipped with radars, video cameras and a sat-nav device that provided visual for the car.
Three cameras monitored the front and side traffic, sending lane marks and buffer zone visuals to the computer. The radars detected the distance between the car bumper and the front traffic, advising the computer either to accelerate or to slow down.
Three computers, including one for backup use, analyze all information and control the mechanical system similar to a passenger jet's fly-by-wire avionics.
A professor from the MTU, Xu Youchun, said computer-controlled driving is safer, as maneuvers are more precise and road rage is eliminated. He said the computer strictly ensures a safe braking distance of 100 meters.
In total, MTU's unmanned intelligent vehicles have registered over 10,000 kilometers of test drives. The cars' performance has been stable on both urban streets and rural roads.
Regarding the future application of unmanned vehicles, automation expert Zheng Nanning, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said such technology could save manpower in military logistics. A transport convoy would only require one driver to lead the group.
Also, in civilian use, an unmanned vehicle could take over the vehicle to reduce driver fatigue and allow the drive to doze off safely. If connected to the Internet and cloud system, an in-car system could optimize directions. Eventually, Zheng said, unmanned city buses will be possible.