A car equipped with Baidu's self-driving system is seen in Beijing. Photo: Handout
A car equipped with Baidu's self-driving system is seen in Beijing. Photo: Handout

A Beijing lab affiliated with the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation is said to be developing a smart system that could enable People’s Liberation Army armored and off-road vehicles to speed along rugged routes at night without having to turn on their lights.

A tiny microchip empowers the system to analyze real-time data of the driving environment, sending early warnings to the driver if there are blurry objects or obstacles ahead while filtering out distractions such as backlighting and shadows, the Beijing-based Science and Technology daily reported this week.

The system, easily compatible with most types of military vehicles in service with the PLA, comprises sensors programmed with artificial-intelligence algorithms that can detect visible light and infrared, and there is also a miniaturized millimeter-wave radar.

“The sensors can help reduce driver misjudgment in a dark environment or on complex terrain, and in these adverse conditions the driver can literally sit back and hit the accelerator,” the paper quoted lead researcher Guo Rui as saying.

Laboratory tests found that the reliability of the intelligent driving system was more than 90% and it took just 0.03 second to process an image taken by cameras installed on the bumper of the test vehicle.

A private car equipped with such a system would be able to stop automatically when it encountered a pedestrian or obstacle even in bad conditions, such as in complete darkness when people not wearing reflective clothes are hard to see, an expert said.

The system will enter small-scale production by the end of this year after road tests.

Baidu founder Li Yanhong shows a video clip of himself traveling in a driverless car during the company’s developers conference. Photo: Baidu

Though the smart system should greatly boost safety, the team warned that the driver should still be ready to take control and his hands must be on the wheel at all times.

There have recently been high-profile fatal accidents involving auto-driving cars in the US. In one case, an Uber sedan mowed down a pedestrian in Arizona, and in another a Tesla Model X sport-utility vehicle crashed head-on into a highway divider in California while in autopilot mode.

Meanwhile, Chinese search-engine giant Baidu will soon start testing its driverless cars in the Xiongan New Area near Beijing. Earlier, a video of Baidu founder Li Yanhong traveling in a driverless car on a busy highway in Beijing went viral, with people skeptical of auto-driving technologies accusing Li of endangering not only himself but other road users.

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