For decades futurists have promised us cars that can drive themselves, but so far that dream hasn't been seen much beyond The Jetsons. Now an Italian company is making progress with a car that can drive itself, and it plans to demonstrate the technology with a dramatic 8,000-mile intercontinental trip.
Developed by a team at Vislab, a spin-off company from the University of Parma, the plan is to run the vehicles on electric power, covering 60 miles a day at about 40 mph. The vehicles charge overnight. The large solar panel on the roof of each van is used to power the vast array of control systems, including laser scanners, cameras, and GPS units.
The lead van will be driven by a real human, with the autonomous vans following behind like the pied piper's hypnotized legions. While they are driverless, a couple of brave people will be sitting in the back seats of the robot vans, ready to take over in the event something goes wrong.
You can follow the team's progress on their website, which will include a real-time webcam to show what they're traveling through. If everything goes according to schedule, they should arrive in Shanghai sometime in October.