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A three months trip, from Italy to China... without a driver !

VisLab's adventure on the Silk road

The project

The World Expo 2010 that will be held in Shanghai, China, is the third most relevant worldwide event after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, 70 millions of visitors from all over the world are expected to visit the Expo. This year’s theme is “better cities, better life”; issues related to sustainable mobility are indeed central to the Expo, which will be a display of new ideas developed worldwide in this field.

VisLab is going to participate to the Expo with a project, partially funded by ERC - European Research Council- that will show that it is possible, although in a prototype version, to move goods between two continents with non-polluting vehicles powered by green energy and with virtually no human intervention. Some goods will be packed in Rome, some collected throughout the trip, and finally taken to Shanghai on vehicles with no driver for the first time in history.

VisLab will be responsible for vehicle technology and automation issues, whileOverland will be responsible for logistics and media events.

The idea

The aim is to demonstrate, through an extensive and impressive test, that the current technology is mature enough for the deployment of non-polluting and no-oil based autonomous vehicles in real conditions. Moreover the Municipality of Rome, an active player in this project, is planning to exploit these vehicles downtown to deliver goods to shops, collect trash, and arrange sustainable mobility in the last mile.

The vehicles

Two electric vehicles will perform a 13,000 km trip mainly powered by solar energy, with no driver; two backup vehicles will be part of the trip as well. As a support, 4 Overland trucks will follow the expedition to provide a mechanic shop, storage, and accommodation; finally two additional trucks will be used for media coverage and will be equipped for live satellite broadcasting.

The first vehicle will drive autonomously in selected sections of the trip and will conduct experimental tests on sensing, decision, and control subsystems, and willcontinuously collect data. Although limited, human interventions will be needed to define the route and intervene in critical situations.

The second vehicle will automatically follow the route defined by the preceding vehicle, requiring no human intervention (100% autonomous). This will be regarded as a readily exploitable vehicle, able to move on predefined routes; at the end of the trip, its technology will be transferred to a set of vehicles to move in the inner part of Rome in the close future.

In case the first vehicle is in line of sight, the second will follow using primarily vision; in case the first vehicle is not visible (cut off by another vehc,e behind a curve, far ahead), the the second vehicle will use GPS info broadcasted by the first vehicle to determine a rough indication of the route. In any case, local sensing will be the primary means of avoiding obstacles, locating the road and the path (when driving off-road), locating other traffic, and -in general- understand the environment.

During the trip, demonstrations will be performed in specific hot spots; autonomous vehicles will follow given routes, negotiating traffic, avoiding obstacles, and stopping when required. The first demonstration was held in Rome at the EUR district on October 29, 2009, when Rome's Major, Gianni Alemanno, officially presented this challenge. More information on the presentation can be found in the official press release while movies of other VisLab Projects can be accessed here:


Many sponsorships opportunities are available for this project. Feel free to contact us to get more information.

Follow the tests and the Challenge in real-time

If you want to witness the greatest challenge so far in the field of mobility, see how the vehicles move autonomously, interact with the engineers that will be following the vehicles, discuss about the great potential of this technology, please refer to this web page and stay tuned at a specific website ( is now online with news, feeds, video streaming from the vehicles while driving to Shanghai!

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