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Solar-powered Robot Cars on Silk Road to Oriental Expo

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Two driverless electric vehicles have begun an epic 13,000-km journey from Italy to Expo 2010 Shanghai along the Silk Road.

The vehicles, developed by the Artificial Vision and Intelligent Systems Laboratory (VisLab) at Parma University in Italy, started their journey on July 26 and are expected to arrive in Shanghai around Oct 28, just days before the end of the Expo.

The European Research Council has funded the project, which hopes to demonstrate the possibility of transferring goods between continents using new-energy vehicles and without a human in the driver's seat.

The long journey will assess the performance of various technologies, including lane, vehicle and pedestrian detections, terrain and slope estimation, off-road sensors, and trajectory planning.

These technologies will one day be installed in ordinary vehicles, said Alberto Broggi, director of the project, at a press conference in Milan before the vehicles' departure.

He said the Expo prompted him to choose Shanghai as the final destination of the test.

"We want to hit the center of the world to show our technologies," he said. "And we thought, why not go there by driverless car?"

He said since the next edition of the World Expo will be held in Milan in 2015, his team wanted to create a bridge to connect with Shanghai.

The announcement of the journey at the Belgium-EU Pavilion in early June sparked interest among many tech-savvy Chinese who have since been discussing the project, and the feasibility of the vehicles in China.

The journey of the two vehicles, which is being streamed live via satellite, can be viewed on

(China Daily August 5, 2010)

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