How This Teen is Transforming the Future of Car Safety

Did you know 90 percent of the 1.24 million vehicle accident fatalities each year result from driver error? Ionut Budisteanu, winner of the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), designed an autonomous car for a fraction of the price of previous models, which could usher in an era of ubiquitous safer road travel.

When Romanian high school student Ionut Budisteanu learned how many car accident fatalities are caused by driver error, he was determined to find a way to prevent these deaths. He read about a robotic car called Stanley, which won the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge competition for driverless vehicles. Stanley’s 3-D radar system, created by a team of engineers from Stanford and Google, cost a reported $75,000. Budisteanu suspected he could create one for less. Far less.

The teen was no stranger to technical challenges. In 2010, he designed artificial intelligence software related to neural networks, a project that earned him his first trip to Intel ISEF. In 2013, at his fourth consecutive Intel ISEF, Budisteanu presented his low-cost autonomous car design. In contrast to Stanley’s expensive, high-resolution radar system, his innovative model used a simple 3-D radar system with three mounted cameras, as well as several software applications running concurrently to process data. The vehicle’s high-tech, invisible chauffeur could detect traffic signs, traffic lanes, and curbs, as well as the real-time position of the car on a computerized 3-D map. The system could also calculate exactly, or use probabilities to determine, the position of the car on the road and safely steer it along its intended path. The cost? Only $4,000.

Budisteanu believes his more cost-effective invention could make autonomous navigation features, and the greater safety they promise, available to all, instead of just those who can afford luxury cars. And saving lives might not be the only benefit of his system. Because autonomous vehicles could analyze traffic patterns and plot the most opportune routes to destinations in real time, as well as operate with shorter following distances, traffic jams could be eliminated, saving fuel and money while also reducing environmental impact.

As for the next steps for this young visionary, he hopes to collaborate with a car manufacturer to bring his autonomous navigation design to a broader vehicle market soon.