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October 14, 2010

German Car Designed to be Your Chauffeur

German scientists have developed an experimental car that can give you a lift – without you or anyone behind the wheel.

The autonomous vehicle, called MadeInGerman, or “MIG,” was recently unveiled by computer scientist Raul Rojas and his team at Berlin’s Free University.

As straightforward as it is to call someone for a ride, users can call their MIG with an iPad or smartphone, and a GPS embedded into the devices will be able to track a caller’s location to the car, which will then map out the best route and provide a time for the car to arrive at its destination.

So, how does it work? The MIG is able to detect objects – such as bikes, pedestrians, road markings, signs, and, of course, other cars – through sensor technology that produces a three-dimensional image of the street on the car’s computer.

The car is able to stop in case of unexpected events, and can respond to traffic lights independently, to give way in accordance with the highway code, according to the designers.

In addition, if there’s a change in destination or someone wants to take control of the wheel, the automatic technology can be turned off via an iPad.

Not only is the vehicle useful for those nights when a designated driver is needed, or one does not want to flip the bill for a taxi, but the MIG is also environmentally-friendly and makes car sharing more practical. So, if several people are traveling in the same direction and want to carpool, one unmanned vehicle can scoop them all up.

This optimal use of carpooling has the potential to reduce the number of cars on Berlin roads to one-fifth of their current number, according to the designers.

"With an ordinary mobile multimedia device (iPad), the driver can access all the on-board electronics," a spokesman said. "This opens up entirely new possibilities for operating the vehicle, far beyond the previous ideas of remote control."

The MIG may only hit the road in Germany, so one may ask if this revolutionary technology will ever exist in the U.S. Turns out technology giant Google recently announced that it is in the process of developing self-driving automobiles that are capable of changing lanes, braking and maneuvering around other cars and objects – also without having a human behind the wheel.

But, it may be awhile before driver-less vehicles enter the arena.

“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” Bernard Lu, a senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, told the New York Times. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”

Tammy Wolf is a RobotXworld copy editor. Previously she was assistant to the editor at The Darien Times, a weekly newspaper in Darien, Conn., where she edited submissions, did page layout and design and helped manage the newspaper´┐Żs website. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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