Wednesday July 2, 2003Robotics is increasingly discovering practical applications for consumers - robot vacuum cleaners and guard dogs are just the beginning - but the day when you can send a car-driving robot to pick up the kids will be the day that robotics has landed. Volkswagen's electronics research group has been working on the "Autonomous Driving" project for several years and although "Klaus" won't be taking to the highway in the near future, Volkswagen has succeeded in teaching it how to drive.Robot Klaus has little in common with the average bi-pedal car owner. With four arms (two for steering, one to change gear and one to turn the ignition key) and three legs (one for each pedal). The vehicle driven by the robot is equipped with a complex control and sensor system that identifies the immediate surroundings and computes the desired direction of travel. Three laser scanners are bolted to the front and one to the rear of the vehicle and a stereo camera and radar device help Klaus to stay on track. Satellite navigation and digital road maps allow Klaus to follow a predetermined route. The research project started from of a desire to improve testing conditions on VW's own proving ground and Volkswagen report that initial tests were successful, if a little jerky. Klaus was conceived up as a means of making the test results more consistent and reducing the human drivers' workload. So rather than replacing drivers, Klaus' role will be used to develop driver assistance systems that will help real drivers avoid accidents in the future.