Sensors in Driverless Cars

driver less carsBMW has added an active assisted technology to a modified 2 Series Coupe. According to reports, the car can slide into a controlled drift to demonstrate how precise the control systems are and how it can handle a critical situation. “It’s like the best test driver you have,” said Dr. Werner Huber, BMW project manager driver. This technology was demonstrated by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The car uses steering, breaking and throttle to control acceleration, deceleration and direction in very small, exact amounts. The demonstration is just one aspect of the technical building blocks required to make a self-driving car. There are also sensors, environmental modeling and decision and driving strategy technologies that BMW is working on. Those were not included on this particular test vehicle.

The have been some early automated-vehicle prototypes from car makers, universities and Google looked like Frankenstein experiments, covered in custom-hacked hardware. But with this awareness, the technology is getting smaller and the necessary sensors and cameras are shrinking to barely noticeable sizes. For example, Audi is particularly proud of decreasing the size of its computer systems, which previously filled the entire trunk of the car, into a box that’s mounted inside the glove compartment. The German car manufacturer demonstrated its Sport Quattro Laserlight concept car at CES. Their real advancement this year is the compact zFAS car computer. Audi\’s Sport quattro laserlight concept car, on display at CES, has shrunk down the automated car computer and sensors.

Size isn’t the only technical challenge for this technology. Dependability is also incredibly important for a computer system driving a car. You can’t reboot a vehicle while it’s hurtling down a highway at 60 mph. Accuracy of the sensor measurement; power consumption and synchronization of different transmitted messages are points to consider for the technology to be legal. Therefore, Car makers agree that while there are many technical issues ahead, they may not be the most daunting obstacles self-driving cars face.

“The main problems are regulations and laws,” said Audi’s Heribert Braeutigam. Various laws will have to be updated around the world to make it legal for automated cars to drive on the road. Car manufacturers and suppliers are already forming working groups to address the topics and work with governments. “We can only influence the technology. The framework work must be done by governments,” said Huber. The technology also poses serious puzzle to Insurance in terms of liability. If a car driving itself gets into an accident that result in damages or injuries, who is responsible? The driver who was watching Netflix on a state-of-the-art car entertainment system, or the manufacturer that designed the car?

But looking at the good side of sensor application, researchers and makers of driverless cars say the technology will be far safer than people-driven vehicles because they eliminate unpredictable human errors like distracted or drunk driving, or poor reactions to emergency situations. However, the cars won’t be accident proof. The first major accident involving the technology will be a huge public relations hurdle for the entire industry. “The psychological aspects of automation are really a challenge,” Huber said. At first, cars will share driving responsibilities with their human owners. Companies are working on automated parking features or traffic assistance technology that will take over in specific scenarios under certain speed limit. There will be many times where the driver will have to actually drive, which means they will not be completely off the hook even during downtime.

“He’s not allowed to sleep, read a newspaper, or a use a laptop,” said Braeutigam, outlining some of the rules for a driver in a partially automated vehicle. The rules are to minimize the amount of time needed to turn a passive passenger into an alert driver who is in control of the car. Privacy will be another big concern. The various sensors and in-car systems can collect data about driving patterns and locations and save that data in the cloud. The idea is to use this information to assist the driver, say updating a car’s route based on real-time mapping information.

A recent report to Congress said in-car services that currently collect location data on drivers don’t always follow recommenced privacy practices. Many companies, like car makers or GPS services, share collected data with third-parties, though the report didn’t find any selling the information to data brokers. The report recommended the government do more to protect drivers’ privacy.

Information collection will become more prevalent in the future. Eventually, car makers hope to open up the lines of communications between individual cars on the road to better avoid traffic jams and prevent accidents. A technology that is even farther off than automated driving, since car manufacturers need to come together to agree on protocols and frequencies.

For the first time, driverless cars will soon be making their way through the streets of the U.K. Slowly. It’s the first time driverless cars will be used in a pedestrianized area in the U.K.

The electric powered “pods” can carry 2 people, and will operate on designated pathways in the town of Milton Keynes, north of London.

Twenty driver-operated pods will be tested by 2015, before a fleet of 100 fully-automated vehicles are rolled out two years later.

The pods will travel at about 12 miles per hour and use sensors to avoid obstacles.

How far this technology will go with the sensor development remains a thing to admire. There are also serious issues to security; spying and terrorist problems that has spark concern over driverless cars as expressed by consumers. “This research confirms that consumers likely won’t hand over the wheel until auto companies can prove equipment is safe from software glitches or failures,” cautioned Rick Riccetti, president and CEO at Seapine Software, the firm that engaged Harris to conduct the poll.




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