Supercar: K.I.T.T. could become reality thanks to the Italian project “1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive”

Catapulted from the 20th century, the Supercar no longer represents that fantastic automaton anchored off the imaginary sea of ​​a TV series, but is a concrete reality. The fairing: no longer that of the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am but that of the splendid Maserati MC20 Cielo. But let's proceed in order. For those who don't know: the television series whose original title is "Knight Rider" translated into Italian as "Supercar" was a TV series made in the United States between 1982 and 1986, also programmed in Italy. The Knight Foundation, headed by Wilton Knight, recruits Michael Long. Who, after saving his life, is given a new identity and transformed into the pilot of KITT, an acronym which stands for "Knight Industries Two Thousands", a super-machine automaton equipped with futuristic artificial intelligence.

Supercars and Automatons

What is the link between a car, Supercar, born from the imagination of successful American television author Glen A. Larson and a custom-built Maserati? In Computer Science, to study theories such as those of Complexity and Computability, abstract and simplified computational models are used, given the difficulty of personal computers in being used as ideal machines. Among the simplest abstract sets we find automata. These simplified structures were initially created to simulate the functioning of the human brain, and are used successfully in many real-world contexts.

Finite state automata

Finite state automata have a vast field of applications and can be imagined as systems capable of carrying out activities autonomously, without human intervention . They are used for the design and creation of a whole series of structures that are often encountered in daily life, systems such as: Traffic lights, snack and drink dispensers, washing machines, dishwashers, petrol stations, are all examples of how a finite state automaton. Rules are defined in all these structures. These rules, together with the inputs, that is: stimuli received from the external world, allow the automaton to decide how and when to change its internal state and by virtue of this determine what the output should be. His (output).

In our case, with automaton, we will indicate a car capable of carrying out operations autonomously, without the intervention of a person. So KITT, the car protagonist of the 80's television series is an automaton. Fully automated, driven by artificial intelligence, capable of speaking, driving itself.

The 1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive Project

Just like the Maserati MC20 Cielo, perhaps not yet capable of communicating, but thanks to the group of young engineers from the Polytechnic of Milan led by Professor Savaresi, it was made an integral part of the 1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive project by equipping it with an autonomous driving system. This is also thanks to the authorization received from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.

The Team Leader

Prof. Sergio Matteo Savaresi, born in 1968. He obtained a doctorate in System and Control Engineering and a master's degree in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic of Milan, plus a master's degree in Applied Mathematics from UCSC. Since 2006 he has been a full-time professor of Automatic Control at the Polytechnic of Milan. While since 2023 he has been head of the DEIB (Department of Electronics, Informatics and Bioengineering) at the Polytechnic of Milan, and is scientific responsible for the 1000 MAD (1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive) project.

1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive: implementation of the project

The large project aims to fully autonomous driving the vehicle, independent of the human factor . Started with an experimentation phase. In this first phase we proceeded by defining the complexity of the challenge, studying every aspect and difficulty. Subsequently, equipping the Maserati sports car with specific tools, including: various types of sensors, actuators and calculation units.

Software

We then moved on to the development of the complex software. Called to manage and process the large amount of data received from sensors. But what put Savaresi's engineering team to the test the most was the study of the compatibility of the complex hardware system mounted on the car with the autonomous driving system implemented.

Therefore it was mandatory to proceed with the alternation of tests carried out on the track or on the road. This is with the aim of validating the progress achieved, and the gradual addition of new elements, thus trying to optimize the various development phases.

1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive: the first dress rehearsals

One of the general tests of the project, confirming the results obtained, was participation in the 1000 Miglia in June 2023. Test carried out partly with autonomous driving. This paved the way for the next step, that is, expanding the vehicle's autonomous driving abilities. Subsequently, numerous other parameters managed by the controller were tested, this was necessary to further optimize the driving experience.

The aim to be achieved with these tests and subsequent optimizations is to be able to complete, in the most optimistic of forecasts, the entire route of the 1000 Miglia 2024 in autonomous driving mode. But more realistically, at least much of the entire route.

Real-time communication

Another battlefield on which the polytechnic team had to fight is represented by the real-time communication of data coming from the vehicle. Make the connection stable and be able to receive information from all the sensors. This is also thanks to CISCO which was a fundamental partner and a very important technology contributor.

A further problem to be addressed could have been that of the enormous amount of data sent to the controller by the various sensors and network architecture mounted on board the vehicle. With such a quantity of data, and with an unoptimized connection, that much feared bottleneck could have been created. This phenomenon would have prevented the vehicle system from perceiving the surrounding environment, delaying the identification of obstacles and the detection of horizontal road signs.

Road test

Other tests carried out: motorway tests in which tests were carried out at higher speeds than those normally maintained in urban and extra-urban contexts. New methods were implemented that allowed the vehicle to know its position in the world with the help of maps supported by the technology present in the equipment. In urban centers open to traffic: Ferrara, Modena and Parma. In this way, the validation of the algorithms used during the 1000 Miglia 2023 was obtained, with particular reference to the peculiarities of these contexts.

This study allowed us to highlight the key points of the autonomous driving system. The excellent results obtained encouraged the team to continue their work. The project demonstrated that research and innovation can lead to great strides towards the realization of fully autonomous driving. This guide expresses only one of the pieces that make up the puzzle that will represent a new paradigm shift. A new revolution that will push us all towards a new model of mobility. A much more sustainable transport model. A new way to experience cities and open spaces, with fewer cars and more sharing.

The article Supercar: KITT could become reality thanks to the Italian project “1000 Miglia Autonomous Drive” was written on: Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .