Driverless cars will definitely need smart roads

Driverless cars

While much ink is spilled about car-to-car communication by the autonomous vehicle press, the concept of car-to-infrastructure communication is now gaining traction.

A recent article by the Application Resource Center discusses the importance that smart road infrastructure will play in the development of autonomous vehicles.

“If we look at it in a very basic level, automated and connected vehicles, to make this happen … it requires an ecosystem to work together,” said Tammy Meehan Russell of advanced materials maker 3M. “Very basically that ecosystem is vehicle, human and infrastructure.”

Though best known as the maker of sticky tape and industrial adhesives, 3M has a big stake in the future of self-driving cars. That’s because it is also the largest U.S. manufacturer of road signs, which bear specially designed reflective materials.

The company also produces reflective paint used for highway lines around the country. In fact it has developed a unique type of road line that includes a special metal mesh that autonomous vehicles sensors can navigate by.

The “smart” lines by 3M are currently being tested at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) which is a proving ground for self-driving vehicles.

Internal systems are great but…

Many technologists argue that autonomous vehicles will be powered chiefly by onboard equipment that makes them self-reliant. This technology consists of artificial intelligence, machine learning capability, sensors and neural networks.

However, the researchers at the MTC are positing that equally important is vehicles’ ability to communicate, both with other cars and with the passing infrastructure.

“Communication will help cars or automated vehicles to see more clearly and further,” said Huei Peng, director of the MTC. “Future road infrastructure needs to be designed to support those human drivers and robot drivers.”

“We think we need have a very systemic way of understanding how these cameras, radar, LiDAR see the environment and we design the infrastructure for them to be driving on the road safely,” he says.

The MTC research comes at a time when the majority of Americans are open to sharing their future with robotic vehicles. In a recent survey conducted by the Consumer Technology Association 70% said they are ready for a future that includes autonomous cars.

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