Solar-Powered Van To Drive Itself 8,000 Miles


As much as I love driving, I know a lot of people aren’t all that fond of it. Need proof? Look at all the people who talk, text, read, or are otherwise distracted from driving behind the wheel. The Next Great Thing just might be cars that drive themselves, as so many sci-fi films have teased us with. The idea may still be rather far off, but a team of Italian engineers is taking a big step towards the future with a long-term, self-powered test of driverless capabilities.

Two pairs of vans, powered by the sun, will trek from Italy to China during a 3-month excursion to test the capabilities of self-driving technology. Will they make it?

Engineers from the University of Pharma are testing technology developed by VisLab. While the two bright orange vans will “drive” themselves through traffic jams in Moscow and across the harsh Mongolian desert, there will be an engineer in the vehicle at all times to take over in case of emergency. These vans are not made for speed, topping out at about 37 mph, and they will be followed by a convoy of two trucks and testing equipment. While one pair of vans is on the road, the other will be towed along to get recharged.

Failure is a certainty along the trip, and the vans are more like followers than actual drivers. The lead van of the pair will be driven by a person, while the second van will “drive” itself to follow the leader. The point of this test is to collect data on what works and what doesn’t. Who knows, maybe one day sooner than we think, cars might actually be driving themselves so we can kick back and enjoy the view.

Even so, I don’t relish the idea of giving up my driver’s seat to a computer. Would you rather drive yourself, or let a computer do the work for you?

Source: NPR | Image: Antonio Calanni/AP

Chris DeMorro is a car enthusiast, blogger, and all-around crazy man who is as passionate about hybrids as he is about Hemis. You can follow his constant misadventures at Three Months In A Mustang.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.