Radar on a chip reduces sensor costs

European research project SUCCESS has developed a low-cost radar system which could help reduce the costs for some of the autonomous car sensors. The tiny chip contains all required high frequency processing components and even includes the antenna! The radar operates in the 122GHz band and has a wavelength of 2.5mm. It can measure distances and velocity of moving objects within a range of up to 5 meters with high precision. The sensor was developed by a consortium of European companies including Bosch, Silicon Radar and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. At an estimated price of less than 2 U$ the chip has a wide field of potential applications and may be especially attractive for smaller autonomous devices where it could replace currently used ultrasound sensors.

Driverless cars needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions!

By the end of this century, global warming could increase the world’s mean temperature by 4 degrees Celsius, warns a recent report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The effects would be dramatic: “unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems,
and associated services“.

Road transport is responsible for about 5 billion tonnes of CO2 annually (data: 2008) which is almost 20% of total global CO2 emissions. Growth in global transportation is likely to further increase these numbers. Global policy makers are searching for ways to limit this growth in greenhouse gas emissions but they still fail to see the potential of autonomous vehicles:

1) Autonomous vehicles could greatly decrease greenhouse gas emissions in urban traffic because
– Car-sharing services could offer local mobility for a highly competitive price based on a fleet of smaller, lighter cars which therefore cause fewer emissions
– Local car sharing fleets would be ideal adopters for alternative, low-emission drives (electric cars, hydrogen, fuel cells). Because of their higher utilization levels, higher initial capital costs for the new technology as compared to the gasoline engine would not matter as much. Autonomous cars used for local trips would be an ideal application for getting electric cars into operation in high numbers.
– Increased use of car-sharing for local transport reduces the overall demand for vehicles which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emission for manufacturing automobiles.

2) Especially in emerging nations which don’t yet have a large percentage of car ownership driverless cars could be the basis for a much more effective transport system which uses a combination of shared driverless vehicles for short distances and buses, trains etc. for medium and long distance travel. Autonomous cars would establish an optimal link between individual and mass transit; small, local driverless vehicles could serve as feeders for the last mile by transporting individuals to/from local bus stations, train stations etc.

3) Driverless cars use roads more efficiently (fewer emissions because of less road construction), can reduce emissions by driving in convoys and don’t induce traffic jams.

Overall, autonomous vehicles could be a major technology to fight against climate change. The technology can even pay for itself: It is probably the only technology which lowers overall costs (of mobility, maintaining the infrastructure etc.). Policy-makers, take note!

Autonomous vehicles could slash road infrastructure costs

Driverless cars are not only getting better at racing, they also drive more efficiently. They react faster and therefore require shorter safety distances. This increases the number of cars that can drive on a given road. A group of researchers from Columbia University have calculated the potential capacity increases and have shown that autonomous cars could greatly increase highway capacity. If cars are able communicate with each other and negotiate their speed and safety distance, highway capacity could increase by up to a factor of 4!

This could translate into great savings for infrastructure expenditures. Annual spending for highway infrastructure alone in the United States amounts to approximately 150 billion U$! Great savings could also be realized in developing countries with fast-growing road networks.

The paper systematically models different cases of capacity utilization and calculates the distances required between cars at different speeds and for different mixes of cars being operated by human drivers, running in autonomous, sensor-based mode or driving in connected mode. They find that the optimum capacity increase occurs when all cars are linked electronically. Just a few cars that are able to communicate makes little difference however. This is different for sensor-based, non-communicating autonomous cars. Even a few such cars would increase road capacity.

The paper provides great insights for anyone interested in the economic implications of autonomous car technologies. Investments in this technology have great potential of reducing road infrastructure expenditures.

Source: Tientrakol, P.; Ho, Y.-.C and Maxemchuk, N.F.: Highway capacity benefits from using vehicle to vehicle communication and sensors for collision avoidance. Vehicular Technology  Conference, 2011. (url)

Volvo cars aims for leadership in the field of autonomous driving

At a seminar in Washington last week, Volvo executive Peter Mertens has vowed to move beyond concepts and bring driverless car technology to the customer. He emphasized that Volvo cars “aims to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving”. He also lamented the current trend to regulate this technology on the state-level in the US and emphasized the need for a comprehensive legal framework.

Volvo cars, which is owned by the Chinese Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, has a long history of improving car safety and has participated in the EU SARTRE road train project which was completed this year.

In the wake of Nissan’s announcements last month concerning drive-by wire technology in some of their upcoming models and their (limited) self-driving Nissan ‘Leaf’ prototype the statement by Volvo cars may be another sign that the tide is turning and competition in the driverless space may start to heat up.

It will be interesting to see when the larger car manufacturers begin to communicate their autonomous vehicle strategy.

Source: Volvo Cars