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Full-size remote control cars – coming soon to a road near you?

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July 30, 2013

The Visio.M electric car used in the TUM project

The Visio.M electric car used in the TUM project

Thanks to efforts of groups such as Google, Oxford University, BMW and Continental, we’re getting closer and closer to the advent of autonomous cars – vehicles that drive themselves, with the human “driver” pretty much just along as a passenger. Researchers at Germany’s Technische Universität München (TUM), however, are looking at taking things a step further. They’re developing remote-control cars that could travel along city streets with no one in them at all, their operator located somewhere far away.

First of all, what would be the point of a passenger-less car? As a couple of examples, the scientists suggest that the technology could be used to deliver rental cars or vehicles used in car-sharing programs to members’ homes, plus it could be applied to city-center parking services – you just get out when you reach your downtown destination, and your car proceeds to head off to the parking garage on its own.

So far, the TUM team has equipped a prototype Visio.M electric car with six video cameras, five of which are mounted on the back of the rearview mirror (facing forwards or to the sides) and one of which is looking out the rear window. Together, they provide a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings.

A live feed from the cameras is transmitted to a remote operator station that resembles a driving simulator, via LTE wireless communication. At that station, three monitors display the front and side views from the car, while a fourth displays the view out the back. Microphones aboard the car provide live Dolby 5.1 audio, while force feedback mechanisms in the station’s steering wheel and brake pedal mirror the forces encountered by the car itself.

Using all this technology, a human operator simply sits at the station and remotely drives the car as if they’re playing a video game. If there’s a break in communications, the car automatically brakes and sits in place until they’re resumed.

The scientists claim that the system isn’t very expensive, and that the LTE networks in many cities are already sufficient to transmit all the required video, audio and control data in real time. They add that slower UMTS networks could also work, as they would produce a transmission lag of less than half a second – which admittedly could still make a huge difference in accident avoidance.

Although issues such as legal liability still need to be addressed, the researchers expect the technology to be in use within five to ten years.

Source: Technische Universität München

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

You know what's really bad-ass, is you take a 2nd hand kids Power Wheels car and adapt a RC car controller to it, using a big servo for the steering etc. Then you cut off the slow and safe kiddy motor and put on a big brushless high speed motor powered by a couple of motorcycle batteries. Change the plastic wheels for some rubber ones, and put on some shocks etc. Then you go practice jumping and flipping down at the BMX track! The body is practically indestructible.

Grunchy
30th July, 2013 @ 04:01 pm PDT

QUOTE: "If there’s a break in communications, the car automatically brakes and sits in place until they’re resumed." - {A major highway traffic jam occured today as XXX firm's main server went down for 30 minutes, causing huge delays durng rush hour.} ALSO, seems like a real boon for suicide bombers - no suicide! Just drive and bomb!

The Skud
30th July, 2013 @ 08:46 pm PDT

Autonomous cars are the future. The average car is used fewer than 2 hours per day. If cars were fully utilized, we could have 1/12 the number of cars on the roads. Even if we are conservative by a factor of 4, that still means we could have all the cars we need and still have 2/3 fewer cars. In California, that would mean a reduction of 25,000,000 cars. Figuring an average of 600 sq ft each car needs for road space, parking and approaches at home, work, school, shops and entertainment, that would reallocate 15 BILLION square feet of space for better use. That's well over 500 square miles of mostly prime CA real estate that could be used for things other than automotive dead-space. 320,000 acres. At a reasonable (for California) $100,000 per acre, that's $32 BILLION dollars in real estate wealth that would be found...just lying around under parked cars.

Mister D.
30th July, 2013 @ 09:58 pm PDT

"a human operator simply sits at the station and remotely drives the car as if they’re playing a video game" and

" looking at taking things a step further."

This is not taking things a step further. It's just RC driving with a large car and camera's and not even close to autonomous driving like google does.

Peter de Wolff
31st July, 2013 @ 03:55 am PDT

guess that means if it runs over some one, no report, just stains on paint

science ninja
31st July, 2013 @ 09:43 am PDT

Great: Not only 1-person-per-car congesting streets, now also driverless cars on top of that! That's progress ;)

Bernd
31st July, 2013 @ 10:25 am PDT

Truly Autonomous cars could be programmed never to violate a speed limit, and would be quite safe with a drunken "driver". This would severely cut revenues for hard pressed traffic departments, and, if cars could park themselves legally, we can look forward to mass unemployment among traffic wardens. Do I hear laughter in the house?.

Michael Martin-Smith
31st July, 2013 @ 12:32 pm PDT

If it ever gets off the ground, it will last until the first serious accident.

And heaven help us if it is hackable - and not much isn't, I'm afraid. Iran's centifuges were not even connected to the internet, yet they suffered quite a sever hit (Stuxnet, or something that sounds similar). Oh what joy the hackers could have!

Mel Tisdale
31st July, 2013 @ 01:49 pm PDT

What is the point if it requires a driver? Having the driver in or out of the car doesn't make a difference- Its not really an autonomous car if it needs a driver. There really isn't any practical use for such technology other than in war where it might save lives. To be honest, I'd rather drive a car to work than having some random other guy driving me!

5942
31st July, 2013 @ 06:35 pm PDT

Car sharing doesn't really lower the number of cars on the road. It lowers the number of cars on the parking lot.

This could make getting a cab in a bad neighborhood easier.

Slowburn
1st August, 2013 @ 12:26 pm PDT

Answering 'Mr D' and 'Slowburn': Are you advocating no private car ownership - just collective rental? Buy 2 hours per day (longer at weekends) and use when needed? Everyone still wants to drive, when and where they want, at times to suit them. The problem of parking or storage during non-peak hour usage will still be there during the quiet times with nobody driving.

The Skud
1st August, 2013 @ 07:34 pm PDT
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