Smart Roads, Smart Maps and Smart Infrastructure for Self-Driving Cars

Movimento Blog

If you have followed the development of the Internet, starting with the birth of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) during the Cold War, its evolution might seem interesting but gradual, until it suddenly exploded and changed our lives. After Tim Berners-Lee brought the World Wide Web into existence, the Internet of the early days became practically unrecognizable. This is how technology often develops – very slowly, and then suddenly, very quickly.

Self-driving cars also seem to be following this path. In the last few months, we have seen breakthrough after breakthrough that makes autonomous vehicles less “a distant eventuality” and more “a fast-approaching reality.” Tesla is already shipping cars with the hardware required to incorporate autonomous technology, Uber is testing its fleets on the streets of Pittsburgh and start-ups are filling in the cracks with exciting new developments.

The most exciting of these developments might lie in roadway mapping and infrastructure connectivity. These are the hidden underpinnings of the upcoming autonomous era. Data is gathered via a process that resembles crowdsourcing and the process is improved through sophisticated big data analysis. But as small startups and OEMs work together to improve this technology and bring self-driving cars to the road, they will also need Over-The-Air (OTA) software updating platforms that are fast and flexible enough to keep pace with the developments.

Better Maps and Smarter Roads

To understand the rapid pace at which infrastructure mapping is improving, let us look at a couple of under-the-radar developments.

Mapping Iowa:

While people rarely think of Iowa as a hotbed of innovation, its location, in the center of the country and in the heart of the agricultural belt, does make it a transportation hub. Because of this, it is now an important testing ground in the effort to increase automation in the shipping industry.

The digital mapping firm, Here, is testing out their latest developments in Iowa, on a stretch of Interstate-380 between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. This stretch of road, which sees as many as 85,000 cars per day, also gets a lot of trucking traffic. ‘Here’ is working to retrofit a 30-mile portion of the road with a wide range of sensors and cameras, some of which are embedded in permanent road infrastructure like traffic lights and street signs. By doing this, the company hopes to understand the communication capabilities between connected cars and self-driving cars with the road infrastructure and with each other, and also to obtain enough information to make further improvements.

Mapping Down to the Centimeter:

The popularity of the Waze app, which has over 50 million users, illustrates the promise of crowdsourcing traffic information. Customers feed data to the cloud as they drive around, and Waze quickly assimilates it to give real-time updates on driving conditions.

It is a model that an Albany, CA-based start-up called Civil Maps is experimenting with. If drivers opt in to an aftermarket update by an OEM partnered with Civil Maps, their vehicles will use embedded hardware and software to create a map of the road with an accuracy of 10 centimeters.

‘Civil Maps’ hopes to use crowd-sourced information to create a highly-specific map for self-driving cars so that the cars’ algorithms will know not just where they are, but their exact relationship to everything around them. Vehicles will be able to recognize that they are not just on the road, for example, but in a lane with a pothole and because the next lane frequently has cars turning right and slowing down for crossing pedestrians, it is not safe to move over.

By providing a continuously-changing, real-time analysis of roadway conditions down to the millimeter, cars will be able to communicate more efficiently with the infrastructure upgrades that companies are building. The whole system will be able to read itself much better, improving safety and reducing traffic congestion.

Reduced LIDAR Costs

Many of these developments are made possible by a sudden decrease in the price of LIDAR systems. The German chip giant – Infineon Technologies AG – having acquired Dutch electronics company Innoluce BV, announced that they can create LIDAR modules for as low as $25. The technology currently costs thousands of dollars.

‘Civil Maps’ is powered by LIDAR. These chips will be used by self-driving cars to evaluate the road around them, watching out for pedestrians and other cars. Soon these systems could become dramatically less expensive.

We Live in Changing Times

It is an exciting time for the automotive industry. Strategic partnerships can transform the way we drive while giving way to new economic possibilities. Here, for instance, once acquired by Nokia, was sold to a German car consortium that includes Audi, BMW and Daimler, for $3.1 billion. The world is full of technology start-ups that are developing ways to make self-driving cars a reality. OEMs who partner with them will not just be adapting to shifting industry trends but will continue to shape a rapidly changing automotive world. This is what will make forward-thinking OEMs even more successful.

It is a good idea to partner with a company that has a proven OTA software updating platform and is an integral part of new economic and technological models. As breakthroughs are made with almost stunning rapidity, OEMs will want to get them out to every vehicle on the road as soon as possible. Things are moving very quickly now. Smart partnerships will enable OEMs to keep up with the rest of the industry.

As the auto industry is changed by technological and economic currents, OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers will need to partner with technological specialists to thrive in the era of the software defined car. Movimento’s expertise is rooted in our background as an automotive company. This has allowed us to create the technological platform that underpins the future of the software driven and self-driven car. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can work together.

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