AutoNOMOS Labs, a German-based unit developing self-driving vehicle technology, has donated 10 scale model robotic cars to Mexican students in 10 colleges and institutions in order to encourage them to develop driverless vehicle technologies. As part of the donation, Mexican students will be offered a programming workshop to kickstart new technologies, culminating with a racing competition in December 2016.

One of the 10 scale model driverless cars

One of the 10 scale model driverless cars

The vehicles, powered by AutoNOMOS software, are mini versions of the 2010 Volkswagen Passat, and last year traveled 2,400km from Sonora to Mexico City without anyone behind the wheel.

Raúl Rojas, a graduate of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), is responsible for creating AutoNOMOS, and is currently working at the University of Nevada where he focuses on intelligent systems, robotics and self-driving cars. Rojas is also a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the Free University of Berlin.

“We’re giving the students a vehicle with an onboard computer that can be controlled with a cellphone. It also has a laser scanner that enables it to measure distances, along with a stereoscopic camera,” said Rojas. “Many have asked me how they can get involved in this research, and the easiest way is to start simple, on a small scale. This model, nonetheless, has the complexity of its full-scale counterpart.”

Rojas intends for Mexicans to use the donation to develop their own development labs. “I’m convinced that students learn more when they talk to each other,” he said. “It would be great if bachelor, masters and doctorate students were able to program the cars, and even greater when they are able to produce and design their own.”

The first challenge the teams will face is to have the cars drive successfully on an empty street. Further ahead, Rojas plans to build a scale model city with obstacles, giving the students and research teams the chance to face the same challenges of the full-sized AutoNOMOS powered cars.

Teams will be invited to further develop the technologies belonging to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the University of Guadalajara, the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics, and the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico.

Several institutions that belong to IPN also received the scaled-down robot car, including the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav) in Mexico City and Saltillo.

The donation comes as part of the collaborative, year-long event known as the Dual Year of Germany and Mexico.