Romanian female scientist helps autonomous cars “to see around the corner” and prevent collisions

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A team of researchers from MIT University in the U.S., including Romanian Daniela Rus, has developed a system that can prevent accidents, by sensing tiny changes in shadows on the ground to determine if there’s a moving object coming around the corner.

Born in Cluj, the 55-year-old scientist Daniela Rus is the first woman running the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, being appointed as manager in 2012.

The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is the largest inter-department laboratory of the Tech University in the U.S., where 900 researchers are working in 50 working groups in three big sectors: artificial intelligence, systems and theory.

Starting from the principle that autonomous cars could one day use the system to quickly avoid a potential collision with another car or pedestrian emerging from around a building’s corner or from in between parked cars, the researchers from MIT conducted experiments with an autonomous car driving around a parking garage and an autonomous wheelchair navigating hallways. When sensing and stopping for an approaching vehicle, the car-based system beats traditional LiDAR — which can only detect visible objects — by more than half a second.

“For applications where robots are moving around environments with other moving objects or people, our method can give the robot an early warning that somebody is coming around the corner, so the vehicle can slow down, adapt its path, and prepare in advance to avoid a collision,” explained Romanian Daniela Rus, as MIT News reported.

In an interview to Forbes magazine in 2016, Rus recounted how she had got her passion for computer science.

“I was born in Romania to a computer scientist and a physicist, which definitely gave me the science bug early. I was a big fan of Jules Verne and especially liked 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I also watched reruns of Lost in Space and loved the computer prodigy Will Robinson and his B9 robot,” Daniela Rus used to say in the interview.

She also lobbied back then for an early education being mandatory in computer science.

“Technological literacy is as important as reading writing and mathematics, because it is all around us. We want to get children interested and excited in robotics from a young age, so that they can be tomorrow’s innovators.”

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