Researchers have devised a novel way to help keep a driverless vehicle under control as it maneuvers at the edge of its handling limits. The new technology is being tested by racing, sliding, and jumping one-fifth-scale, fully autonomous auto-rally cars at the equivalent of 90 mph. The technique – model predictive path integral control (MPPI) – was developed to address the nonlinear dynamics involved in controlling a vehicle near its friction limits.
The control algorithm continuously samples data coming from GPS hardware, inertial motion sensors, and other sensors. The onboard hardware-software system performs real-time analysis of a vast number of possible trajectories, and relays optimal handling decisions to the vehicle moment by moment. The auto-rally vehicles use special electric motors to achieve the right balance between weight and power.