In The Future, Self-Driving Car Software Could Cost $4,000 Thanks To This High-School Student

By Michael Mayday , May 19, 2013 10:48 AM EDT

Self-driving cars aren't anything new –– Google has had its own car for three years now –– but they are expensive. But one 19-year-old Romanian student is seeking to change that by using a cheap 3D radar, artificial intelligence and web cameras.

Ionut Budisteanu's self-driving car is capable of detecting lanes, curbs, sudden movement and the driverless car's relative position to nearly everything around it. All this for the low-low price of $4,000. That's not even a quarter of what Google's driverless car system costs.

"The most expensive thing from the Google self-driving car is the high resolution 3D radar, so I was thinking how I could remove it," Budisteanu said, in an interview with NBC News.

The system works by combining information from webcams and a 3D radar. The webcams, paired with artificial intelligence, pick up on smaller objects, such as soccer balls, lane marks and curbs. That information is fed through computers and into a supervisor computer program, which then combines that data with data received from a mounted 3D radar to make calculations and drive the car.

The 3D radar is used to track large objects like cars and houses.

The self-driving software has failed three out of the 50 times Budisteanu had tested his system. His low-definition 3D radar failed to see pedestrians 65 to 1000 feet away, but Budisteanu said the problem is easily fixable with a slightly higher-definition 3D radar.

Budisteanu efforts won him first place at Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair, and a $75,000 scholarship, on Friday.

The contest had other winners as well. Eesha Khare, 18, developed a small device which fits in cell phone batteries, and allows the user to fully charge their device in 20 to 30 seconds and netting her a $50,000 scholarship.

Henry Lin, 17, also won a $50,000 scholarship, but he didn't create anything. Instead, Lin simulated thousands of galaxy clusters, aiding researchers to better understanding the effects of dark matter and dark energy, as well as understanding heating and cooling in massive objects.

"We congratulate Ionut, Eesha and Henry on their success at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this week in Phoenix," Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science & the Public said in a press release. "Their research demonstrates the value of hard work and creative thinking. All the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalists here this week show great promise in harnessing the power of science and innovation to solve problems and create opportunity for our global community."

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