The Perfect Backseat Driver

by Jay London on July 20, 2012 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, Engineering, In the News, Modern Geekhood, Research, Transportation

A new vehicle safety system developed by two MIT alumni is the perfect backseat driver. Dubbed “the intelligent co-pilot,” the system stays mostly idle, never chirping directions or taking full control of the wheel. It only reacts in situations when an accident is imminent, quietly steering the car to safety and immediately transferring control back to the driver.

A screenshot from the MIT News Office video simulates the "intelligent co-pilot" in action.

Developed by Sterling Anderson SM ’09, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Karl Iagnemma SM ’97, PhD ’01, a principal research scientist in the Robotic Mobility Group, the system monitors a driver’s performance and, when sensing oncoming harm, springs to action and navigates the vehicle to a safe area.

From MIT News:

“The system uses an onboard camera and laser rangefinder to identify hazards in a vehicle’s environment. The team devised an algorithm to analyze the data and identify safe zones—avoiding, for example, barrels in a field or other cars on a roadway.”


Anderson and Iagnemma have run more than 1,200 trials of the system using a modified Jeep-style vehicle on a self-made obstacle course in Saline, Mich., and reported minimal accidents. The trials also indicate that the human drivers with faith in the system, especially in moments of near-collision, drove the test course with more confidence and accuracy than those who did not trust it.

The team presented their research paper, “Constraint-based planning and control for safe, semi-autonomous operation of vehicles,” at the 2012 IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium and a series of posts by Sterling  at Design Impact describes the background, motivation, and early results of their research.

What’s your take? The system could be especially helpful if a driver falls asleep at the wheel. But could you trust a semi-autonomous vehicle, especially in a moment of danger? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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