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China hot on Google's heels with driverless car

Researchers at China's National University of Defense Technology recently debuted an autonomous vehicle of their own that could give the search giant a run for its money.

The Hongqi HQ3 sedan.
The Hongqi HQ3 sedan. First Auto Works

Google isn't alone on the road to commercialize driverless cars. Researchers at the National University of Defense Technology in China recently debuted an autonomous vehicle of their own that could give the technology giant a run for its money.

In a partnership with China's First Auto Works, university researchers equipped a Hongqi HQ3 sedan with cameras, sensors, and a computer that enables it to start, navigate traffic, and stop without help from a driver. The autonomous vehicle made a 154-mile journey on a busy freeway from the Hunan province's capital of Changsha to Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province, in 3 hours and 20 minutes.

The driverless Hongqui HQ3 doesn't use GPS technology to figure out where it is or how to get where it's going. Rather, it relies solely on its cameras and sensors to watch for traffic, obey speed limits, and make lane changes. Its computer is capable of making driving decisions in 40 milliseconds compared with the 500 milliseconds a human driver takes, and because the HQ3 can respond more quickly to traffic scenarios, it's theoretically safer.

Researchers reportedly set the top speed of the vehicle at 68 mph, which was fast enough to permit the car to overtake 67 other vehicles on the expressway, and let the car loose to figure out how to get to its destination. Along the way, the HQ3 navigated through fog, thundershowers, and unclear lane markings without incident.

However, unlike Google's driverless cars, the HQ3 cannot "see" at night, and doesn't have quite as long a track record. Google's Priuses have logged more than 140,000 miles logged with reportedly only two minor accidents, the most recent caused by human error.

Google recently successfully lobbied the Nevada state legislature to develop laws that will permit and govern autonomous vehicles. But there are a few other players in the autonomous car market in addition to First Auto Works. Audi partnered with researchers at Stanford University to build a driverless Audi TT to navigate Pikes Peak, and University of Parma researchers took a driverless road trip from Italy to China in a robotic van.

Perhaps the only commercialized driverless vehicles on the road are the electric pods currently being used at London's Heathrow Airport to transport passengers between Terminal 5 and parking lots. However, the autonomous car pods travel on dedicated roadways, operate at a top speed of 25 mph, and have a limited set of destinations.

(Via Singularity Hub)