Local News

N.C. State prototype car steers itself

Posted April 14, 2010 12:03 p.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2010 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Remember the 1960s TV cartoon "The Jetsons" and George Jetson having the option to steer his space car or to let a computer steer for him?

Students at North Carolina State University's College of Engineering have developed a computer program that allows a vehicle to do just that – and that could mean saving a life in the event of an emergency.

Using a miniature motorized children's Jeep, they placed a video camera on the front that feeds images to a laptop that sits on the back. The program detects and maps the road on which the vehicle is traveling.

The computer then controls equipment in the Jeep to adjust the steering and speed to keep it on path. It also recognizes stop signs and obstructions and sends a command for the vehicle to stop.

Wesley Snyder, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, says the research could become the next generation of auto safety, with features that can allow vehicles to stay in their lanes, avoid traffic and gracefully react to emergency situations.

"This can help protect not only the car that has the safety feature, but other drivers on the road as well," he said.

The software could also serve useful for the military when it comes to reconnaissance or transporting materials, he says.

Snyder and his team will present a paper describing their research next month in Anchorage, Alaska, at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

They will also begin testing the program in real vehicles, with the computer program giving directions to a human driver.