Autonomous Vehicles Tech Digest - May 2017

Sony image sensor could improve vision systems

Sony has developed a CMOS image sensor that reduces image flicker meaning that cars equipped with it would be able to better see electronic road signs and transition between dark and light more easily. The IMX390 can reduce flicker from LED signs such as those used to warn of temporary speed limits. It also uses HDR (high dynamic range) enabling it to shoot high quality colour images in 0.1 lux lighting condition – such as in moonlight. Samples are being shipped in May 2017 with plans to have mass production shipping in March 2018. 

South Korea to build city for self-driving vehicle testing

Business Korea has reported that the South Korean government plans to open the ‘world’s largest test bed for self-driving cars’, called K-City, in October 2017. K-City will be a purpose-built city-like environment for manufacturers and developers to trial autonomous vehicles – featuring bus-lanes, parking for autonomous vehicles, short sections of expressway etc. K-City is currently under construction and is expected to cover an area of 36 hectares when finished. It is reported that the project will cost USD9.7 million.

AI in autonomous vehicles and driver hand-over

Nuance, an American software company, has expanded its partnership with Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (DFKI), a German research centre for AI. The companies are working on in-car cognitive and conversational AI systems that can improve the hand over from autonomous driving system to a manual driver. The companies carried out tests to see what is the best way to alert the driver to take control. It used haptic, visual and auditory alerts in a simulated autonomous car environment to see which would result in a return to the wheel the quickest. It was revealed that sound warnings were the most efficient method to get the drivers attention, and that the drivers trusted the audio and haptic alerts more than visual alerts. The study showed that reaction time is the slowest when the driver is engaged in a listening activity e.g. listening to music or an audio book. 

Toyota to investigate blockchain

Toyota, a Japanese car manufacturer, is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and others to create a blockchain system for sharing information about autonomous vehicle testing data, to manage ride-share and car share transactions and store vehicle usage information for the purposes of insurance. Toyota plans to develop applications and proof of concept in each of these areas:
Driving/testing data sharing: the technology may allow users to share and monetise their driving information and access data provided by others in a secure marketplace. 
Car/Ride share transactions: Could allow users to potentially monetise their car by selling rides, cargo space or renting the vehicle itself out to others. Blockchain technology would allow for a smart contract to exist between the user and the other party without the need for a middleman, reducing transaction costs. 
Usage-based insurance: Blockchain would allow users to use information they collect to potentially reduce their insurance rates.

Method to reduce amount of testing

University of Michigan researchers have developed a method that they argue could reduce the number of miles of testing an autonomous car would have to undergo before coming to market – reducing testing time and costs by up to 99.9%, according to the researchers.  The idea is to break down the real-world driving situations into components that could be individually tested or simulated repeatedly, which the researchers believe would reduce the number of miles of real-world testing from 300,000 down to just 1000 miles. The researchers reviewed data from 25.2 million miles of real-world driving, involving 3000 vehicles. From this data they:

• Identified events between autonomous cars and human driven cars.

• Programmed their simulations to take particular caution with human-driven cars.

• Carried out mathematical tests to assess the risk and probability of certain crashes, injuries, near misses etc. 

• Interpreted test results to learn how autonomous cars would perform in everyday driving situations. 

Autonomous ship

The Yara Birkeland, by Swedish agricultural products company Yara, is a fully electric, autonomous container ship that is expected to begin commercial journeys in the second half of 2018. The ship will initially be piloted by a human but Yara expects the ship to be using its own remoteYara autonomous piloting system in 2019, with fully autonomous capabilities by 2020. The ship’s sensors and other key enabling technology were developed by Kongsberg, a maritime technology company. 

Autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic jams

University of Illinois researchers have discovered that a single autonomous car in a circular traffic jam simulation can reduce the jam. Having an autonomous car intelligently control its speed when a jam is about to happen can reduce the amount of braking in cars behind. The number of sharp hits to the brakes is reduced from an average of nine per vehicle per kilometre to 2.5 hits per kilometre. 

Self-driving garbage truck

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has worked with Renova, a waste collection company, to develop an autonomous garbage truck. The route is programmed and the vehicle drives autonomously from bin to bin, with the driver walking ahead of the vehicle emptying the bins into the truck. The collaboration will continue until the end of 2017. The truck has a sensor system for identification, navigation and monitoring of the vehicle’s vicinity. The same kind of set up is being used in Volvo’s autonomous mining truck that is being tested at Kristineburg Mine in Sweden. 

Google partners with Lyft

Waymo, Google’s autonomous car company, and Lyft, a ride sharing company, have partnered to carry out self-driving pilots. As part of the partnership Waymo’s self-driving car unit will work with Lyft’s people to help introduce self-driving to the masses via fleet services. Lyft also has a partnership with GM to test autonomous vehicles in 2018. 

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