A little more than a week ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Professor Alberto Broggi of Vislab and of University of Parma, Italy. Dr. Broggi and I talked about autonomous cars and what they're doing to advance that field--all extremely interesting stuff. I got to see one of the famous orange vans that they took on an autonomous driving tour from Parma to Shanghai.
The best part though, was when he offered to take me for a drive in
their current test vehicle. Of course, I jumped at the chance! Here's a
short video of a piece of the experience. To set the stage, we headed out on this test run: the prof and I in the rear seat, and one of his grad students in the driver's seat. We were following a lead vehicle driven by another student. The "driver" wasn't driving, but monitoring the system, and I could see that he wasn't using the steering wheel, brake or gas. Impressive!
What really made an impact was when we stopped. Professor Broggi's student got out, walked over to the lead vehicle, hopped in, and they took off. He had set our car to follow the lead car, and we drove off in a leisurely pursuit of the lead vehicle. With nobody in the front seat.
It was a rush! It was an amazingly strange feeling, watching the car take us down the road, adjusting speed up and down smoothly, moving over from the shoulder to avoid pedestrians on the side of the road, and "observing" the traffic laws. Quite a unique experience, to be sure.
An experience I'm sure will be experienced by many people sooner than we think.