Friends, when Skynet goes active and machines go on the attack, this is how the first invasion may look. It’s actually encouraging, because a single line of 55 vehicles moving slowly should be easy targets. Kidding aside, these 55 autonomous SUVs from Changan Automobile in China had a different mission – setting a new Guinness World Record for the largest autonomous vehicle parade. And in that mission, these identical red vehicles were successful.
The parade took place last November at the Dianjiang test site in Chongqing. The SUVs covered the two-mile course in just over 9 minutes, driving at a speed of 30 km/h (18.6 mph) with a fairly narrow gap between the vehicles. That was done on-purpose according to Guinness, which mentioned a few special changes to the SUV’s autonomous system in a report on the record. Specifically, Changan engineers tweaked the boundary detection sensors in the vehicles to give them better positioning in the lane. Also, object and event detection was dialled down, reducing the gap between vehicles to apparently make for a better-looking parade.
The autonomous army wasn’t devoid of humans, however. Each vehicle had a person behind the wheel ready to avert a machine apocalypse, and actually, one person did assume control for unspecified reasons. That action disqualified the SUV, but 55 self-driving cars were still enough to claim the record.
Autonomous cars are no longer the realm of science fiction. They are here, now, and though the technology is still being fine-tuned for absolute autonomy – Level 5 according to the scale created by SAE International – many production vehicles on the road today reach level 2 with automated safety systems. Level 3 is the tipping point where full hands-off operation in certain situations comes into play; SAE identifies’ Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot as Level 3, though some would argue Tesla’s Autopilot also fits the bill. By that definition, these SUVs would technically fit into the Level 3 realm, though the situation was decidedly highly controlled and not indicative of a real-world environment.
Level 4 autonomy is defined as a vehicle able to self-drive in any condition, but with manual controls available for human intervention. Level 5 is a full-on robotic car without any controls.