Back in July, a team of researchers from the European Research Council set out on an epic 8,000-mile journey from Italy to China through the Gobi desert. If that weren't daunting enough, the crew braved the trek in a pair of driverless electric vans. Believe it or not, the team just finished up their drive, and while researchers on board had to intervene a few times to handle traffic and toll booths, by and large the vehicles navigated to their destination without any help from human hands. Instead, they use a system called generic obstacle and lane detector, or GOLD, along with a series of solar-powered laser sensors to determine the van's proximity to surrounding traffic.
The vans ran at a top speed of 38 mph to maximize battery life, but the real reason that the trip took so long is that the vehicles had to be charged eight hours for every two hours of driving. The researchers say that the data they collected over the trek could be used in everything from mining to construction to augmenting driver abilities.