The notion of fully autonomous vehicles is an exciting one that will require a significant number of technological challenges to be solved in order to become a reality. The vehicles offer the ability to significantly reduce the number of accidents resulting from human error and will also provide a means of independent personal mobility for those unable to drive such as the handicapped or elderly. Self-driving vehicles are a maturing technology with the potential to reshape mobility by enhancing the safety, accessibility, efficiency, and convenience of transportation. The SAE J3016 standard uses a scale from 0 to 5 to assess the level of automation of a vehicle.
The same basic principles that apply to enabling autonomous flight of aerial vehicles also apply to ground vehicles. Fundamentally, the vehicles need to sense their environment, plan their movements, and actuate to maneuver the vehicle based on that plan. Recent advances in sensors, computing technologies, and algorithms have enabled this technology to become truly transformative.
While ground vehicles don’t necessarily have the same level of maneuverability compared to unmanned aerial vehicles, the reduction in the number of degrees of freedom simplifies some of the sensing, planning, and control challenges. Additionally, ground vehicles typically have a larger payload capacity which enables them to carry more energy sources, sensors, and onboard processing power. This makes autonomous vehicles a great research platform to learn about the fields of artificial intelligence, sensor fusion, and path planning. This research uses two separate platforms to explore the field of autonomous vehicles.
For hands on experience, the Elegoo Robot Car V2.0 was used. This is a cheap and simple autonomous vehicle starter kit. The standard kit includes modules for obstacle avoidance, line tracing, IR, Bluetooth, sonar, and an Arduino for processing. The kit can be upgraded by using a RaspberryPi for more processing power.
On the software side, I signed up for the FormulaPi summer race series. This is an autonomous vehicle race series designed for people with little hardware or software experience. The league provides everyone with basic software and a common hardware platform. All of the vehicles are maintained at the FormulaPi race course, however, the teams can remotely modify and upload their software before each race.