Just turn on the engine, lean back and relax: Your car will do the driving for you. At least, that is the concept behind the “Spirit of Berlin,” a vehicle developed by researchers from Freie Universität Berlin and from Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) in Sankt Augustin.Researchers have developed a self-steering vehicle that uses laser scanners to detect obstacles in its path. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer IAIS.The autonomous automobile uses a global positioning system receiver and an associated inertial navigation unit for steering, while a series of sensors can identify obstacles around the car. One of the vehicle’s most important sensors is a rotating 3-D laser scanner, consisting of two back-to-back 2-D scanners mounted on the roof of the car, that provides a 360° view. The device, developed at Fraunhofer IAIS, classifies the navigable route and can distinguish the road from parking lots, footpaths, houses and pedestrians. Software analyses the scanner data while the vehicle is in motion and steers to avoid any obstructions.Currently, the scanner is too expensive for use in private vehicles, but it is being used to determine the visibility of advertising billboards. The device can assess from which perspective the billboard is visible, the point from which someone driving can see it and whether it is partially obstructed by an object such as a tree.