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St. Louis Park autonomous vehicle takes off for California

The company behind the smart car plans to test systems that could work in various driving conditions

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VSI Labs drivers display the automated vehicle
Jacob Miller (left), Ryan Sargent and Sara Sargent show off the autonomous vehicle from VSI Labs. The company plans to take the vehicle 2,000 miles from Minneapolis to Santa Clara, Calif. over four days, and let the vehicle do the driving.
Courtesy of VSI Labs

VSI Labs of St. Louis Park has equipped a 2018 Ford Fusion with the latest technology for automated driving. On Tuesday, the company had three employees hop inside for a four-day,  2,000-mile cross-country ride while letting the car do the driving.

The vehicle is equipped with adaptive cruise control and a special steering system called map-based, lane-keeping technology. That new technology is meant to keep the car in a single driving lane even during challenging road conditions. 

Sara Sargent, the engineering project manager for the vehicle, said that camera-based guidance systems are already in use. They use cameras to “see” the lanes and keep the vehicle on the road. But winter driving will require a GPS alternative, since the lanes are covered.

"We as Minnesotans know that's not going to work for us all the time because we have snow and weather. So as a Minnesotan, this is a really important project to me to see the feasibility of something like this," Sargent said.

“We're hoping to learn where map-based lane-keeping performs really well, and then more importantly, what conditions, environments or situations it doesn't perform well.”

The trip will take the team from Minneapolis through Sioux Falls and Deadwood, S.D.; to Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno, Nev.; and to Santa Clara for the Drive World Conference & Expo.

A map showing the route the autonomous vehicle will take to Santa Clara.
The company VSI Labs plans to take its automated vehicle 2,000 miles from Minneapolis to Santa Clara, Calif. over four days.
Courtesy VSI Labs

Sargent will be behind the wheel the entire time, serving as a safety driver in case the driving system fails at any part of the trip.

“I won’t be sitting back snacking, reading, or anything like that,” she said. “I’ll be responsible for keeping hands on the wheel and being prepared to take over if the system doesn’t have enough data to handle the situation.”

The Ford Fusion equipped with autonomous technology from VSI Labs
The Ford Fusion equipped with autonomous technology from VSI Labs on display before the trip.
Courtesy VSI Labs

You can follow the trip through the company’s various social media accounts, like TwitterInstagram and Facebook.