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Robot cars can now do a Rockford into a parking space

Blagger/spec-ops J-turn tactic automated

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Vids At last robot-car boffins have achieved something useful: they have developed a vehicle which is capable of carrying out a J-turn of the sort favoured by stunt drivers, criminals and undercover operatives - precisely into a parking space.

Here's a vid* uploaded by J Zico Kolter, PhD student at Stanford university's Computer Science department, showing the type of research you need to carry out to win your doctorate there:

Sharp-eyed viewers will note that there is a person in the driver's seat, but Kolter assures viewers that this individual (named Dave) has nothing to do with the handling.

"I happen to know that Dave (the safety driver) is much less capable of driving that maneuver than the computer :-)", he writes.

The research is described in more detail in this vid*:

Kolter and his colleagues refer to the robocar's technique of going from speedy reverse to face in the direction of travel as a "sliding park manoeuvre". However the trick is more widely known as a J-turn, or in some circles as a "Rockford" (from its frequent employment by beloved telly 'tec of yesteryear Jim Rockford) or even perhaps as a "Moonshiner's turn".

It is favoured by criminals and others who may need to make an abrupt escape from roadblocks or ambushes, as an alternative to a conventional handbrake or bootlegger turn where a car going forward skids round to face the other way.

With the J-turn a stopped or slowing car facing the wrong way can use the good initial acceleration usually offered by reverse gear to extract itself from trouble, then swing round and drive away forwards without loss of time.

The manoeuvre is obviously useful for ne'er-do-wells seeking to avoid a chat with lawmen occupying the road ahead. It is also taught to British undercover operators (for instance those from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment) as a means of escaping from opposition roadblocks or ambushes.

There's proper tech detail available from Kolter and his fellow robocar boffins here in pdf. ®

*These are Flash vids from YouTube. Bad luck, fanbois.

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