Enabling Autonomous Driving with Human-Like Reasoning


With aims of bringing more human-like reasoning to autonomous vehicles, MIT researchers have created a system that uses only simple maps and visual data to enable driverless cars to navigate routes in new, complex environments. In a paper being presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, an MIT research team describes an autonomous control system that “learns” the steering patterns of human drivers as they navigate roads in a small area, using only data from video camera feeds and a simple GPS-like map. Then, the trained system can control a driverless car along a planned route in a brand-new area, by imitating the human driver. Similarly to human drivers, the system also detects any mismatches between its map and features of the road. This helps the system determine if its position, sensors, or mapping are incorrect, in order to correct the car’s course.

“Our objective is to achieve autonomous navigation that is robust for driving in new environments,” says co-author Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “For example, if we train an autonomous vehicle to drive in an urban setting such as the streets of Cambridge, the system should also be able to drive smoothly in the woods, even if that is an environment it has never seen before.”


Traditional navigation systems process data from sensors through multiple modules customized for tasks such as localization, mapping, object detection, motion planning, and steering control. For years, Rus’s group has been developing “end-to-end” navigation systems, which process inputted sensory data and output steering commands, without a need for any specialized modules. The system uses a machine learning model called a convolutional neural network (CNN), commonly used for image recognition. During autonomous driving, the system also continuously matches its visual data to the map data and notes any mismatches. Doing so helps the autonomous vehicle better determine where it is located on the road. And it ensures the car stays on the safest path if it’s being fed contradictory input information.

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