Chauffeur for the new millennium
Review: ARGO - Computer-driven car
Surfing the web looking for new gadgets, I came across the "ARGO project" <http://www.argo.ce.unipr.it/argo/english/index.html> - an entirely automated, computer-driven car.
The project's name, ARGO, was derived from the Italian names of two distinct myths relating to navigation and vision: the first, the ship "Argo" - used by Jason in his quest to find the Golden Fleece; the second, "Argus" (the all-seeing) - the hundred-eyed god with the gift of all-round vision, whose eyes were eventually set in the tail of Hera's favourite bird, the Peacock.
The brainchild of the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Parma, Italy, this project came to fruition with the recent successful test-run of the ARGO car across 2000 km of Italian countryside. Could this really be the chauffeur of the future? We put it through the Four Question User Test to see how it shapes up.
1. Is it ready to use?
Well, although the ARGO project has been going for many years and seems to be almost perfected, this "automated chauffeur" isn't likely to be in general use for quite a while yet. As for the system, it seems operational and ready for use.
2. Is it easy to use?
Could anything be easier than sitting back and checking out the scenery while a computer drives your car for you? The system drives automatically, remaining well within its own lane, identifying and localising obstacles in its path and changing lanes where necessary to avoid them. The computer monitors and controls the steering and the speed, monitors conditions such as weather and light, and adjusts its driving accordingly.
If you prefer to drive yourself, you can still do so, with a little help from ARGO. You drive while the system keeps track of everything and warns you of potential dangers, or it can be set to take control of the car in dangerous situations.
Just one small snag - this chauffeur runs on Linux. So you might have to brush up on your Linux knowledge!
3. Does it work as advertised?
Absolutely! They wanted to design a system capable of controlling a car. They've done it . They wanted an intelligent system that would drive the car safely. They've done that too. In essence, they've created an intelligent, though inanimate, chauffeur.
And how, you might ask, did they do it? With a Pentium MMX 200 MHz, 32 MB RAM, an odometer, an Analog Digital IO board and Linux as its control centre - the brain. The nervous system is a software application known as GOLD (Generic Obstacle and Lane Detection); its eyes are two black and white cameras, with a video-in card and various other little niggly bits; and its ears are simply a sound card.
The cameras constantly monitor the car's surroundings. Warning signals and suchlike from the car's vicinity are recorded by means of the sound card. The motor attached to the steering column is controlled by an ISA-adaptor which also controls the vehicle's speed.
This information is all transferred to the system's "brain" by means of a second PC (a portable, also running Linux) with two GSM modems and Internet. The data is also sent to a control panel (visible to passengers in case of emergencies), which shows the position of the vehicle in the lane, the selected driving parameters, and six buttons for controlling those parameters. An on-board colour monitor also lets the passenger monitor the steering process.
4. Is it worth the price?
The system is still in the development phase and won't be commercially available for some time to come. But in time, I'm sure its advantages will make it well worthwhile for many people.
But can anything beat the feeling of being in the driving seat? Your hands on the wheel and your foot on the pedal . . . now that's freedom.
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