Report from Moscow demonstration VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge or Italian automatic miracle machines in action

    The topic of electric transport has already ceased to be new to the IT community. Although an electric car on Russian roads is still a curiosity to see, but some habraly people already assemble their own electric bikes . This report is about electric cars, but the main highlight is not at all in this. The fact is that the Italian company VisLab some time ago began to implement a grandiose event - a transcontinental rally on automatically controlled electric vehiclesable to move almost without human intervention and completely without the use of traditional fuels. From August 17-19, the Italian delegation was in Moscow, on August 18, a demonstration was held near the Cosmos Hotel, and yesterday, August 19, a demonstration was held for the Moscow representative office of Topcon Positioning Systems , which is a partner in the rally and supplied navigation equipment for it. I was lucky enough to get to this demonstration. Audi RSQFirst of all, I want to disappoint those who watched the movie "I, Robot" and were flattered by the picture above. No super-fast supercars without a steering wheel, everything is much more modest. Conventional Italian "micro-wagons" with electric Piaggio Porterglued with labels and tied with wires. Looking ahead - fully automatic control in VisLab has not yet been achieved. But still the cars are very interesting and VisLab had something to show.
    Handsome men
    Beauties, right?
    Front view
    Front view, “trailer” is hung with sensors and equipment. Below is a description of everything that is installed additionally outside and inside.
    Stereo cameras and off-road laser scanner
    On the roof in front, above the windshield, front cameras are placed that form a stereoscopic image (left and right), a stereo base of about 80 cm. The road irregularities, road markings and possible incline are tracked by a stereoscopic image when driving on good roads. In the center, between cameras, with an inclination down, there is an off-road laser scanner, Automation relies on it when driving on roads to Russian places where there are no roads. It performs a task similar to stereo cameras, but is more focused on the search for bumps. Also under the glass you can see the panoramic image acquisition system - three cameras from which the picture is “glued” together in a computer, a front view with a field of view of 180 degrees horizontally is obtained. This picture tracks the position of the “leading” car, even if there is a slope or a sharp turn ahead.
    Front bumper with scanners
    The front bumper has three more laser scanners . Of them:
    • 2 lateral, working in the same plane - parallel to the ground, with a field of view of ~ 240 degrees (due to installation in the bumper, a really constructive field of view is 270 degrees).
    • Central, working in 4 planes , with a field of view of about 100 degrees.
    All three scanners collect data on obstacles in the immediate vicinity of the car: fixed obstacles, pedestrians, and other cars. 4 non-parallel work planes of the central scanner can partially avoid the drawback of such systems when working on a road slope: at the lower point of a steep rise (or descent), the laser rests uselessly on the road surface, at the top it illuminates the sky. VisLab claims to have partially circumvented this issue, with a working distance of up to 80 meters for the central scanner.
    Almost the entire roof is occupied by a solar battery, from which the entire automatic control system is powered. It has nothing to do with standard batteries and an electric motor. This is done exactly because VisLab wanted to make minimal changes to standard electric car systems. For bad weather and night driving, the control system has its own backup batteries. Another interesting thing on the roof: A
    Topcon navigation system
    terribly useful device with the Topcon Positioning Systems logo, includes:
    • Three-system (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo , GLONASS frequencies: L1, L2, GPS: L1, L2, L5) navigation receiver for outdoor navigation.
    • A set of inertial sensors for navigation in the absence of data from the receiver.
    • Radio modem
    • Perhaps something else, the device is expanding by plug-ins.

    Thales Navigation System
    The device in a brown case without inscriptions was installed only on one of the machines; according to some sources, this is a Thales navigation system similar in functionality to the Topcon described above. Details, unfortunately, no. UPD: Details have appeared, this is not a navigation system, but a telecommunication system , more precisely, its antenna. In the trunk under the shelf is its control unit (there is a general view of the trunk below).
    Rear stereo camera and radio modem
    This is one of the rear stereo cameras and the “antenna box”, a description of which is not available on the VisLab website, apparently this is another radio modem. The functionality of the rear stereo cameras is about the same as that of the front laser scanners - obstacle detection. A transparent box in the background is a junction box with connectors closed from the rain by a plastic case.
    Side view
    Side view of the machine. One can see how many organizations had a hand in the project. You can also notice two outlets . One standard, through it, the batteries supplying the engine are charged:
    Standard Battery Charging Socket
    And one, supplied by VisLab, this outlet is used to power the "automatic driver" when setting up and debugging the system: An
    Autopilot Auxiliary Power Outlet
    RJ-45 connector is visible next to the outlet - this is a regular Gigabit Ethernet port , which can used for high-speed connection of the on-board computer network to the "outside world".
    Well, probably, the most interesting thing for the habra-humans is the “brains” of the system:
    On-board network diagram
    The circuit of the on-board network, from which it is clear that there are three “brains” of the system - these are three CarPCs , each of which is engaged in its own task. There is not much data on the configuration of computers, from what is seen in the photo, Kingston's 64-gigabyte SSDs are used. SSD is the best option for CarPC, not only because of speed, but also because of its insensitivity to vibrations. From what is not visible in the photo, but I managed to see - the Socket 478 processor sockets are on the motherboards. The heatsinks there are quite modest, so I find it difficult to say which processors are used in these computers. Obviously not Intel Atom, possibly C7 from VIA Technologies.
    PC 1
    First PC, "brown1", engaged in plotting and driving directly. The X-BY-WIRE system is connected to it, it is also Drive-by-Wire , i.e. Actually the car control system using servomotors, by wire. Also, navigation receivers, inertial sensor systems and other Topcon and Thales equipment are connected to a fair number of COM ports.
    PC 2
    The second PC, “brown2” , is responsible for “gluing” a panoramic image from three cameras on the windshield and processing it, as well as for detecting obstacles using the front laser scanners on the bumper. Video cameras are connected to this computer via IEEE1394, while scanners are included in a common on-board Ethernet network.
    PC 3
    Third PC, "brown3", is working on monitoring the condition of the road with a fourth scanner (the one on the roof) and four cameras - two front cameras that give a stereo image of what is in front of the car and two rear cameras that give a similar image of what is happening behind. Also, rear stereo imaging detects obstacles in the rear. 4 cameras are directly connected to this computer from the roof, again via Firewire.
    Solar charge controller
    Solar battery backup charge controller . The battery itself, apparently, is in a box on which all computers are installed.
    A communicator was attached for some reason near the controllerunmarked, connected to brown1. Judging by the keys - with the Android OS inside. As suggested in the comments, this is the Nexus One. The appointment remained a mystery to me - during the whole demonstration, the Italians never turned it on. Thanks to the SovGVD habrayuzer , we also found out the purpose of the communicator - this is an IBM system for collecting information on carbon dioxide concentration , it is written about it below.
    Scanners and computers are interconnected by a gigabit network, so these are ordinary gigabit switches, maybe even some of those reading at work or at home are the same.
    General view of the brain
    General view with an open trunk, will warm the heart of any system administrator. Under the shelf to the right, you can see the control unit for the Thales telecommunications system.
    Of course, it is interesting to look at cars in motion. Unfortunately, I did not have a high-quality video camera, only my communicator. Therefore, first a description, then a photo, and then a modest short video.
    So, the run details: there are 4 cars in total , of which two are main and two are backup . Only three were present at the demonstration, one Italians went somewhere. Again, two "microcars" were directly demonstrated. In addition, the run should be followed by a whole string of trailers, in case of system setup, repairs, unforeseen situations, etc. But the trailers didn’t come to the demonstration, so there’s nothing special to tell me about it.
    All electric vehicles have the same equipment (except for the telecommunication system - the one in the brown case, it is present in a single copy on the host car).
    As I said, the roles of the two machines are different: the first, the "leading"moves automatically most of the way, but in some cases a person has to intervene in management, because deviations from the intended course sometimes come across and various unforeseen situations occur. Also, the first machine collects data throughout the trip, and it also conducts various experiments with scanners and cameras, decision-making systems and control systems. As braindamaged added , along the entire route the machine measures the level of CO 2 and posts it on Twitter.
    The second, “driven”the machine is controlled by a computer 100% of the time, a person never intervenes in control. The system is constantly being refined, bugs are fixed and, according to VisLab, such a machine after a run will be able to move along a fuzzy given route completely automatically. Electric cars created in such a prototype can be used for transportation in the conditions of a city center with its busy traffic.
    Cars go from Milan to Shanghai, a significant part of the run passes through the territory of Russia. The site has a schedule of major stops by dates, on August 22 cars should be in NiNo, and after that there will be many more stops in Russian cities, from Saratov to Kemerovo.
    Well, now a few photos in motion:
    Master and slave machines
    Both carsleading and led. The leader at this moment is controlled in manual mode, driven as usual - automatically.
    The leading car is larger.
    Slave , in automatic mode.
    Look how I canimage
    “Look how I can do it!”
    Video on Youtube, both machines in automatic mode:

    In conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to VisLab, who created this piece of the future (although they have done such things already since the 90s of the last century) and to my friend who wished to remain anonymous, who called and led me to the event.
    If anyone has questions - write in the comments, I will try to answer. In addition, the run site and VisLab site (links at the beginning of the article) have a lot of information in English. Of the most interesting things on the site is the ability to observe the picture from the cameras of the host machine in real time. True, broadcasting, unfortunately, regularly falls off due to technical problems, but sometimes it works.
    UPD: It turned out that there was already material on this subject on the Habré , but very short and without details. There was one morereport about cars in motion , there is an interesting video.

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