An Extraordinary Ride-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Extraordinary Ride

Bill Shuster has many titles, including U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania's 9th District and Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. After recently riding in Carnegie Mellon University's self-driving car, developed with support from General Motors, he was proud to claim yet another: "Test Passenger."

During a 33-mile drive from Cranberry, Pa., to Pittsburgh International Airport Sept. 4, Shuster and Secretary Barry Schoch of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation got a first-hand look at the custom Cadillac SRX as it threaded through congested traffic, merged at highway speeds and obeyed traffic signals — all without human intervention.

Raj Rajkumar, who directs CMU's U.S. Department of Transportation-funded transportation research center and co-directs the CMU-General Motors Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab, accompanied Shuster and Schoch for the drive. Jarrod Snider, senior engineer, was in the driver's seat, ready to take control if necessary.

"Autonomous driving technology is progressing rapidly," Rajkumar said. "This car is the holy grail of autonomous driving because it can do it all — from changing lanes on highways, driving in congested suburban traffic and navigating traffic lights. Carnegie Mellon continues to be a leader on this emerging frontier."

Unlike other self-driving vehicles, the SRX doesn't bristle with exotic and expensive sensors. The car uses automotive-grade radars and lidars, which are unobtrusively embedded around the car. Its computers are hidden under the cargo floor. In addition to controlling the steering, speed and braking, the autonomous systems detect and avoid obstacles in the road, including pedestrians.

The Cadillac SRX can communicate with instrumented traffic lights and other vehicles equipped with wireless communication devices to enable cooperation.

CMU's portfolio of transportation technology projects includes the GM-CMU Vehicular Information Technology Collaborative Research Lab, the Traffic21 initiative and the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation Center, a U.S. Department of Transportation University Transportation Center at Carnegie Mellon in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. The Hillman Foundation provides additional support for Traffic 21 and the Transportation Center

During the demonstration drive with Shuster and Schoch, Jarrod Snider took over control of the car only once — not because of a malfunction, but because of maneuvering by a news-media vehicle shooting video. The passengers, however, didn't perceive any glitches.

"Jarrod, I'd say you did a great job of driving," Schoch quipped afterwards, "but you really didn't do anything."

"It really is amazing to see this technology," Shuster added. Autonomous driving, he predicted, will make roads safer, reduce congestion and save fuel. "It's a win-win-win for all of us."