If I were one of the Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) co-founders or Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, I’d certainly want to scoop up 19-year-old Romanian Ionut Budisteanu for my team.
The high school student took top prize – the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award – last Friday at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. He received the scholarship award for using artificial intelligence to create a low-cost, self-driving vehicle.
It’s well known that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is considered the leader in developing a fully autonomous vehicle, as its project’s progress is well publicized. And Musk told Bloomberg earlier this month that he is talking to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) about its driverless systems. (Musk said he prefers the term “autopilot,” as it gives the message that the human is in control.) So, there’s little doubt that offering “autopilots” for Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s is on Musk’s short-term radar (no pun intended).
Ionut Budisteanu’s self-driving technology
Budisteanu’s technology involves the coupling of low-resolution 3-D radar with webcam imagery, per an NBC News article. The low-res radar identifies larger objects, such as other cars, buildings, trees, etc. The webcam imagery is processed using artificial intelligence to recognize such things as curbs, lane markings, and small objects on the road.
The information from the two systems is collected, processed, and fed into a main computer, which “drives” the car.
How did this system perform? Per NBC,
“Budisteanu ran 50 simulations with his system and in 47 of them it performed flawlessly. In three, however, it failed to recognize some people who were 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) away. He said slightly higher-resolution 3-D radar should do the trick and still keep costs at a fraction of Google’s.”
Budisteanu said his system should cost no more than $4,000.
So, how does this system compare with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s? That’s our next section.
A two-route transition to fully autonomous systems?
Budisteanu and Musk have something in common – they both were quoted (a couple weeks apart) as saying Google’s self-driving technology is too costly. And it appears they have the same broad solution – that incorporating a camera system is the way to go. (I think Musk should cough up a Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S for the young Romanian to use as a prototype!)
Budisteanu told NBC News:
“The most expensive thing from the Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) self-driving car is the high-resolution 3-D radar, so I was thinking how I could remove it.”
And Musk told Bloomberg:
“The problem with Google’s current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive. I think Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) will most likely develop its own autopilot system for the car, as I think it should be camera-based, not Lidar-based. However, it is also possible that we do something jointly with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG).”
(Lidar is a sensing technology that measures distance to something by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the reflected light.)