The 2010 VisLab Challenge

The project

The World Expo, this year held in Shanghai, China, is the third most relevant worldwide event after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. More than 70 millions visitors from all over the world visited the Expo. This year’s theme was “better cities, better life”; issues related to sustainable mobility were indeed central to the Expo, which displayed new ideas developed worldwide in this field.

VisLab participated to the Expo with a project, partially funded by ERC – European Research Council- to show that it is possible, although in a prototype version, to move goods between two continents with non-polluting vehicles powered by green energy and with virtually no human intervention. Some goods have been packed in Parma, some collected throughout the trip, and finally taken to Shanghai on vehicles with no driver for the first time in history.

VisLab was responsible for vehicle technology and automation issues, while Overland was responsible for logistics and media events.

The idea

The aim was to demonstrate, through an extensive and impressive test, that the current technology is mature enough for the deployment of non-polluting and no-oil based autonomous vehicles in real conditions. This technology has been exploited downtown to deliver goods to shops, collect trash, and arrange sustainable mobility in the last mile.

Scientific Outcome

This 13,000 km trip will be the base for an exhaustive and extreme test of VisLab technologies developed in the last years: systems like lane detection, vehicle detection, pedestrian detection, terrain slope estimation, off-road sensing, waypoint following and dead reckoning, trajectory planning, actuation and control,… that VisLab has been developing throughout the years and fielded on many different autonomous vehicles (see ARGO and TerraMax, for example) are going to be thoroughly tested for 3 months in a row and on a 13,000 km intercontinental journey. The aim is to determine possible situations in which these systems do not work as planned and fine tune them. At the end of the test, the systems will be more stable, more robust, and should tolerate extreme conditions like the ones negotiated during the trip. No friendly environment, no prestructured conditions, and no assumptions on other road participants, unlike in the DARPA Challenges, are possible. The systems must be ready for any kind of real scenarios.

Furthermore, all data produced by the sensors, the vehicle, and flowing from the GPS are logged, populating a unique database of very diverse scenarios. This database will be used at the end of the trip as a test for additional driver assistance systems that will be developed by VisLab in the future. Plus, VisLab is evaluating a method to share this huge and unique database with other research centers; the database’s size is estimated to be about 100 terabytes, including 7 cameras, 4 laserscanners, GPS, IMU, vehicle CAN information, intervehicle communication, and manual annotation of the most important spots. All sensors are pre-calibrated and synchronized throughout a unique clock.

The vehicles

Two electric vehicles will perform a 13,000 km trip with no driver; two backup vehicles will be part of the trip as well. As a support, a number of Overland trucks and RVs will follow the expedition to provide a mechanic shop, storage, and accommodation.

During the trip, demonstrations will be performed in specific hot spots; autonomous vehicles will follow given routes, negotiating traffic, avoiding obstacles, and stopping when required. The first demonstration was held in Rome at the EUR district on October 29, 2009, when Rome’s Major, Gianni Alemanno, officially presented this challenge. More information on the presentation can be found in the official press release while movies of other VisLab Projects can be accessed here: