Two mechanical engineers at MIT are developing a new semiautonomous safety system that automatically steers a vehicle around obstacles in the event that the driver does not manually take control. Sterling Anderson, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Karl Iagnemma, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Robotic Mobility Group, have developed a new system that uses an on board camera and laser rangefinder to identify hazards in a vehicle’s environment.

The system has an algorithm to analyze the data and identify both objects to avoid—like other car—and safe zones on the road. The best part is that the system only takes control of the vehicle when it is on a collision course with hazards on the road. “The real innovation is enabling the car to share [control] with you,” Anderson stated. “If you want to drive, it’ll just… make sure you don’t hit anything.”

Anderson has been testing the system since September and since then the team has run more than 1,200 trials of the system. Out of the more than 1,200 trials there have only been a few collisions when glitches in the vehicle’s camera failed to identify an obstacle. Automakers like Ford and Volvo are currently developing fully autonomous cars, but according to Benjamin Saltsman, manager of intelligent truck vehicle technology and innovation at Eaton Corp. feels that those systems are too expensive and complex.

“The implications of [Anderson’s] system is it makes it lighter in terms of sensors and computational requirements than what a fully autonomous vehicle would require,” Saltsman stated. “This simplification makes it a lot less costly, and closer in terms of potential implementation.”


Images © Sterling Anderson