In the footsteps of Marco Polo by car … driverless!


[Marine Drive, Llandudno, Wales] (LOC) © The Library of Congress

40,000 fatal car accidents occur every year in Europe and 93% of them are due to human errors. This is the evidence that highlights the limits of the “automobile solution” for land transportation.

The use of this solution for people transportation implies the death of a percentage of them! It is as if every year a small town would disappear. It is unpleasant to make a so dramatic statement but this is the reality.

In one of my previous articles I shown how the enlightened minds of Google have found a remedy to this problem building an intelligent car that can travel over the streets without having a person driving.

The design philosophy is clear: eliminating the “imperfect element” in the system the security increases definitely. It is clear that as far as possible we should eliminate the need for the “limited” human intervention from the drive of the vehicle.
Professor Alberto Broggi of the University of Parma has realized this problem from long time and tried to find a solution working on an ambitious project aimed at giving the vehicle an intelligence of its own.

The eye of the driver has been replaced by several cameras that allow a complete view of the scenario (digitized) that surrounds the car. These digital eyes bring information to the onboard computer which processes them forming a comprehensive representation of the road scenario second by second. In relation to the scenario and the events that occur the actuators of the devices are properly activated: steering, throttle, brakes, lights, etc..

Making a pleasantry we could say that the system sets a “driving without heart” in the best sense of the term. In fact, the computer will never be affected by the limitations due to physical fatigue, to the loss of attention, to the delayed reflexes … and the will to be “the fastest” typical of some humans!

It is clear that the extraction of the physical and passionate elements in the driving equation confers a substantial gain in safety.

Professor Broggi – at the head of the spin-off VisLab – in 1998 realized a prototype based on the Lancia Thema travelling for 2000 km and, in 2009, went even further with a new prototype traveling through the chaotic traffic of the city of Rome, opening the imagination to the perspective of an innovative and intelligent public transportation that can embrace services for the disabled, children and the elderly.


foto Overland driverless


But these results did not quench the desire of the professor to focus on increasingly challenging goals to test its technology.

In 2010 then comes the time to go over, in what we might call “the challenge of challenges” planning to go from Milan to Shanghai with the “smart cars” driving in fully automatic. The vehicle chosen for this mission “in the footsteps of Marco Polo” were four Piaggio Porter with full electric drive properly set up.

After 13,000 adventurous kilometers on any type of road there was the triumphant arrival at the Shanghai Expo. The extraordinary result took Alberto Broggi also on stage at TED, the largest global event reserved at the leaders in the various fields of innovation.



The self-driving vehicle is the central element in the vision of the professor but not the only one. Alberto Broggi imagine intelligent vehicles of any kind (cars, buses, trucks, earth moving machinery and tractors) integrated into a global infrastructure capable of governing the transport of goods and people in a sustainable way ensuring safety and respect for the environment. Thus intelligent vehicles for intelligent cities or, if you prefer, for Smart Cities.


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