Research vehicle on autonomous drive through Mexico

October 29, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Paul Rojas, professor of the University of Nevada and the Freie Universität Berlin, has driven 1500 miles (2400 km) miles with the hands off the wheel through Mexico. The trip from US border town of Nogales to Mexico City is the longest-ever drive in this country.

Autonomous driving requires highly exact street maps. For this reason, the data describing the route amounted to several terabytes, the University of Nevada said in a press release. The vehicle, a modified Volkswagen Passat Variant, ran with a specially developed software. Most of the trip was highway, Rojas said, but there have been many different issues such as construction sites, urban areas and potholes.

For Rojas, the trip along Mexico’s Highway 15 sets a personal record, but the professor is familiar with autonomous driving. Already in 2010, his autonomous vehicle has already driven some 300 km round trip between on the German autobahn A9 between Berlin and Leipzig. The car is equipped with a highly precise GPS system and specialised equipment that allows it to follow a pre-set route. In autonomous mode, the vehicle drives on its own with other systems controlling speed, direction and braking.

Rojas and his team began instrumenting autonomous vehicles in 2006 at Stanford and Rice University (Houston). His driving laboratory since then has been equipped with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras seven radars and a highly precise GPS unit. Not all sensors however have been fitted and activated simultaneously. The researchers can switch sensors off and on to test the vehicle’s behaviour under different circumstances.

Rojas’ three autonomous vehicles have been licensed in Berlin for city traffic since 2011, and they have been cruising the streets of Berlin ever since. In the next years, Rojas intends to do the same in the city of Reno and to visit various other points in the USA. After the research vehicle’s arrival from Berlin, where Rojas had been conducting research at the Freie Universität, the team mapped the complete route from Reno to Mexico City, gathering GPS data and integrating speed limits and other road-related factors into the software. Before leaving on the mapping expedition, the sensors, laser scanners and imaging systems were reconnected and tested at