Daniel Susco
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Rubber Ducks Roll Toward the Future of Autonomous Cars

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Self-driving cars are a bit of a tough nut to crack. Testing can be dangerous when using real vehicles (or lead to funding headaches or injury in the event of a wreck)—just ask Google, which has been lambasted each time one of its road-testing autonomous cars has been in an accident, even if those crashes were the human driver’s fault. Plus, most people don’t have access to an entire fake city like Ford with the University of Michigan’s Mcity.

Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle at Mcity

Psh. Snobs.

Honestly, this could tend to discourage those interested in the field. After all, without being able to design and observe autonomous vehicle technology, the amount a budding engineer can do is extremely limited.

Enter MIT’s “Duckietown.” Like we talked about the other day, Duckietown is a project where rubber duck taxis navigate a tiny city and interact with each other, all autonomously.

However, these duck taxis carry more than squeaky waterfowl—they carry the future of autonomous vehicle engineering.

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Arthur Weasley The function of a rubber duck

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So, in order to force engineering students to get creative, the professors at MIT put some restrictions on the duckmobiles.

First, the autonomous duck cars may only work with a single on-board camera, forcing the students into working with a very limited field of vision. Second, no pre-programmed maps of the environment allowed, so these fowl ferries have to be able to recognize features around them such as street signs, road lines, and each other as they travel around the track. What the students are left with is an engineering challenge in robotics, involving a number of trade-offs (like choosing between more complicated algorithms and better hardware).

MIT hopes that this project will lead to more schools running their own versions of Duckietown, but it seems to us that we don’t need to stop there—we hope that Duckietown leads to the next generation of engineers being better-equipped than any of their predecessors to build the autonomous (or semi-autonomous) cars of the future.

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News Source: TechCrunch

Daniel Susco is a native of the Dayton-Cincinnati area, and has written on a multitude of subjects. He can discuss Shakespeare, expound on Classical Mythology, and even make witty jokes about Pliny the Elder (More like “Pliny the Rounder,” right?). In his free time, Daniel enjoys reading, cooking, woodworking, and long walks on the beach (just kidding – sunburn is no joke). See more articles by Daniel.