Forgotten Tech — Self Driving Cars

The notion of self driving cars isn’t new. You might be surprised at the number of such projects dating back to the 1920s. Many of these systems relied on external aids built into the roadways. It’s only recently that self driving cars on existing roadways are becoming closer to reality than fiction — increased computer processing power, smaller and power-efficient computers, compact Lidar and millimeter-wave Radar sensors are but a few enabling technologies. In South Korea, [Prof Min-hong Han] and his team of students took advantage of these technological advances and built an autonomous car which successfully navigated the streets of Seoul in several field trials. A second version subsequently drove itself along the 300 km journey from Seoul to the southern port city Busan. You might think this is boring news, until you realize this was accomplished back in the early 1990s using an Intel 386-powered desktop computer.

The project created a lot of buzz at the time, and was shown at the Daejeon Expo ’93 international exposition. Alas, the government eventually decided to cancel the research program, as it didn’t fit into their focus on heavy industries like ship building and steel production. Given the tremendous focus on self-driving and autonomous vehicles today, and with the benefit of hindsight, we wonder if that was the best choice. This isn’t the only decision from Seoul that seems questionable when viewed from the present — Samsung executives famously declined to buy Andy Rubin’s new operating system for digital cameras and handsets back in late 2004, and a few weeks later Android was purchased by Google.

You should check out [Prof Han]’s YouTube channel showing videos of the car’s camera while operating in various conditions and overlaid with the lane recognition markers and other information. I’ve driven the streets of Seoul, and that alone can be a frightening experience. But [Han] manages to stretch out in the back seat, so confident in his system that he doesn’t even wear a seatbelt.

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South Korean Mapping Satellite Reaches Orbit

South Korea’s space program achieved another milestone yesterday with the launch of the first Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) in a planned series of five vehicles. A second-generation Russian Soyuz 2.1a lifted the Korean-made CAS500-1 from historic Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan and successfully placed it into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit, inclined by 97.7 degrees or 15 orbits/day. Living up to its reputation as a workhorse, the Soyuz then proceeded to deposit multiple other satellites into 600 km and 550 km orbits. The satellite is pretty substantial, being 2.9 m tall and 1.9 m diameter and topping the scales at 500 kg. (Don’t be confused, like we were, by this Wikipedia article that says it is a 1.3 kg CubeSat.)

South Korea already has over a dozen satellites in orbit, and the CAS500 adds a modular space platform to the mix. It was designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to provide a core backbone which can be easily adapted to other missions, not unlike a car manufacturer that sells several different models all based on the same underlying chassis. Another down-to-earth goal of the CAS500 program was to foster the transfer of core technologies from state-owned KARI to private industry. We wonder how such figures are calculated, but reportedly 91.3% of CAS500-1 was made in Korea. Subsequent flights will further involve local services and industry.

The purpose of the first two satellites is to provide images to the private sector, for example, online mapping and navigation platforms. How popular this will be is yet to be determined — as one local newspaper notes, the 2 meter image resolution (50 cm in monochrome) pales in comparison to Google’s advertised 15 cm resolution. The next three satellites will focus on space science imagery.

The Soyuz launch is shown below, and this short video clip from KARI shows a nice animation of the satellite. Try not to cringe at the simulated whooshing sound as two satellites pass each other in the vacuum of space — turn down the volume if you need to.

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AI On The Highway

A couple of announcements caught our attention last week regarding AI-controlled cars. South Korea’s Kakao Mobility and local startup Autonomous A2G launched a limited self-driving taxi service in Sejong City this month, made possible by enabling legislation passed in May. For now, the service is restricted to government employees, and the AI driver will be backed-up by an engineer who is there to monitor the systems and take over in an emergency. The companies plan to expand the fleet and service areas this year, although no details are given.

Another announcement comes from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport about the on-going successes of the semi-autonomous truck platooning program. This is a collaboration between the Korean Expressway Corporation, Kookmin University in Seoul, and Hyundai Motors. Previously restricted to a designated test road called the Yeoju Smart Highway, the program is now being tested on public roads at speeds up to 70 kph. This year the program will expand to platoons of 4 trucks running at 90 kph. We’ve always thought that long-haul trucking and freight industries would be an early adaptor AI technologies, and one which AI could offer significant benefits.

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Converting Cigarette Butts Into Batteries

Trillions of cigarettes are smoked every year, leaving behind discarded filters containing non-biodegradable materials that can be recycled into carbon-based products for electrochemical components. This was discovered by a team of South Korean scientists who presented their unique energy storage solution in IOP Publishing’s journal of Nanotechnology.

The materials inside the cigarette filters offered up better performance than commercially bought carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes at the time. They hoped to coat electrodes of supercapacitors with the material to be inserted into computers, handheld devices, and electric vehicles. A simple one-step burning process called pyrolysis reduced the filters down into a carbon-based byproduct with tiny pores. The leftover porous substance ensured higher power densities for supercapacitors. This was then tested out to see how well the material absorbed electrolyte ions and discharged them. It did better than expected and stored higher amounts of electrical energy than other commercially available options.

The full paper is linked at the bottom of their article but it’s behind a paywall. If you have a subscription and the time to look it over, please let us know if you think there’s potential for this unorthodox material source or if they’re just blowing smoke.

[Thanks for the tip Ryoku!]

Velociraptor Robot Ready To Run With The Big Dogs

velociraptor-robot

[Jongwon Park] and his team of students at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have created a fast biped robot based upon the Velociraptor. Raptor weighs in at just 3Kg, and stands only 470mm tall, yet it is capable of running at 46 km/h. That’s almost as fast as Boston Dynamic’s Cheetah.

Raptor uses carbon fiber composite legs to absorb and release energy while running. The system is similar to that used in high performance prosthetic legs. A rotating tail assembly further helps to balance Raptor on rough terrain. We have to admit, the tail system does look a bit dangerous for any humans who might need to interact with the robot. It does work though, as evidenced by Raptor bounding over Styrofoam blocks.

The Raptor robot is quite impressive when running at full speed. Considering this project’s budget was nowhere near the resources of Boston Dynamics, it’s an amazing accomplishment. The video reminds us of  Boston Dynamics founder [Marc Raibert’s] early robots at the MIT Leg Lab. We can’t wait to see what this team produces in the future.

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[Ian] Shops Seoul, South Korea

We don’t get a chance to shop some of the cooler electronic component shops here in the States, much less hop on a plane and experience the Hacker’s Disneyland that are the Asian markets. So we’re glad to live vicariously through Hackaday alum [Ian Lesnet’s] adventures. This time around he’s combed through Seoul, South Korea’s electronics markets. That link will take you to the roundup of about a dozen posts he published during his recent trip.

The image above is a screenshot from one of the videos he made of the experience. After the break you can watch him put on the tour-guide hat. We think he did a great job of explaining the experience and showing off what the market is like without letting the video drag on. The shops mostly offer a window display with all of the components they sell. To make a purchase you just window shop, then go inside and they will pull out an order for you from bulk bags stored on floor-to-ceiling shelves. [Ian] also makes a stop at the local Hackerspace where they show off some of their 3D printer builds.

This is not the first time he’s given us a tour like this, go check out his Akihabara trip if you missed it before. He’s also planning to meet up with the Seeed Studio folks to tour the shops in Shenzhen next month. Continue reading “[Ian] Shops Seoul, South Korea”