Driverless electric van expedition arrives in China – Click above for high-res image gallery

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 miles per hour 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.


  • Two driverless vehicles make their way to the World Expo in Shanghai on October 28, 2010. The two bright orange driverless vehicles, equipped with laser scanners and cameras that work in concert to detect and help avoid obstacles, were launched by a team of Italian engineers which is billed as the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles - a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Two driverless vehicles, in orange, equipped with laser scanners and cameras that work in concert to detect and help avoid obstacles, travel on the Shanghai Expo site to attend the official celebration of their arrival Thursday Oct. 28, 2010 in Shanghai, China. A team of Italian engineers launched what has been billed as the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles: a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. (AP Photo)
  • European Union pavilion staff lead a parade to welcome driverless vehicles to the World Expo in Shanghai on October 28, 2010. The two bright orange driverless vehicles, equipped with laser scanners and cameras that work in concert to detect and help avoid obstacles, were launched by a team of Italian engineers which is billed as the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles - a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Two driverless vehicles, equipped with laser scanners and cameras to detect and help avoid obstacles, travels on the Shanghai Expo site to attend the official celebration of their arrival in Shanghai, China, Thursday Oct. 28, 2010. A team of Italian engineers launched the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles, a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. (AP Photo)
  • One of two driverless vehicles, equipped with laser scanners and cameras to detect and help avoid obstacles, travels on the Shanghai Expo site to attend the official celebration of their arrival in Shanghai, China, Thursday Oct. 28, 2010. A team of Italian engineers launched the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles, a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. (AP Photo)
  • Two bright orange driverless vehicles, equipped with laser scanners and cameras to detect and help avoid obstacles, travel on the highway Tuesday Oct. 26, 2010 in Shanghai, China. A team of Italian engineers launched what has been billed as the longest-ever test drive of driverless vehicles: a 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile), three-month road trip from Italy to China. (AP Photo)

[Source: The Detroit News, NPR]

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