Unmanned, solar-powered vehicles have arrived in Kiev, Ukraine, after setting out from Belgrade on a three-month journey to Beijing. Their journey can be tracked live at viac.vislab.it/

The vehicles from the Italian VisLab are unmanned, run on electrical power and are partly powered by solar energy. They intend to bring goods packed in Italy to Shanghai on an intercontinental route with no human intervention and without using traditional fuel for the first time in history.

VisLab Solar-powered Van
VisLab Solar-powered Van

Since there are no maps of some of the areas in which the vehicles have to move, it would be impossible to ask the vehicles to determine the route. Therefore the convoy is led by a vehicle in which operators take control every time a decision on the road has to be taken. This vehicle is manned all the time, although it runs autonomously most of the time. It is used to test innovative systems and conduct experiments. The leader also broadcasts its GPS position via radio. The second vehicle receives the leader’s GPS position and follows the leader’s route defined by very rough GPS waypoints. The second vehicle is fully autonomous although it will carry passengers.

The vehicles are also manned during border crossing to avoid having to make lengthy explanations.

Solar panels are used to power the autonomous driving system. Otherwise, the vehicles batteries are recharged from local green electricity where supply is available, or from generators where it is not available.