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The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

How London's Tower Bridge appears to a mobile laser scanner.

Two architectural designers are mapping London with an autonomous car's lidar systems and three-dimensional laser-scanning techniques.

Credit: ScanLAB Projects

Using three-dimensional laser-scanning techniques, architectural designers Matthew Shaw and William Trossell are mapping London with an autonomous car to demonstrate its artistic potential.

Lidar systems are susceptible to flaws and vulnerabilities, which include being deceived by bad weather and reflective surfaces. Carnegie Mellon University professor Illah Nourbakhsh says driverless vehicles' sensory limitations need to be considered, especially in environments characterized by complex architectural forms, reflective surfaces, unpredictable weather, and temporary construction sites. He suggests one implication is cities may need to be redesigned to accommodate driverless vehicles' unusual perspective of the built environment.

Capturing such features is the purpose of the mapping effort Shaw and Trossell's ScanLAB Projects is undertaking. Shaw says the project's goal is investigating "the peripheral vision of driverless vehicles" by intentionally disabling certain functions of the laser scanner's sensors. The initiative's aesthetic novelty--visualizing a city transformed into an alternate, hallucinatory universe of digital ghosts and spectral silhouettes--reveals insights into the unique perceptions of autonomous machines that ScanLAB suggests is an emerging artistic discipline.

From The New York Times
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