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Finland’s autonomous cars start communicating

Finland’s autonomous cars start communicating

Feature articles |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt



At the current stage of the R&D project, the automated cars, based on models from Volkswagen and Citroen, already can follow a pre-programmed route and avoid collisions with sudden obstacles without intervention from the driver. Presently, they compute their trajectories based on the input from their sensors whereas the cameras play the dominant role: The vehicles follow the lane markings as “seen” by the camera; once these markings are faded or become entirely invisible, Mailyn and Martti get lost.

Good to see: The sensor carrier with lidar and radar scanners

Of course, the VTT researchers assure, this is only the first step; by 2020 the vehicles and their sensing equipment will have a state of evolution that allows them to drive on gravel roads or even on roads covered with snow which is said to be not uncommon in the country crossed by the polar circle.

 

To get their bearings, the vehicles are equipped with a long-range radar and laser scanners to generate the big picture, plus a short-range radar that provides high-resolution scans of the vicinity. And of course tha cameras: A stereo camera that delivers high-quality images and a thermal (infrared) camera that detects humans in the trajectory and on the side of the road. The sensor kit is complemented by the usual array of inertia sensors that determine directional changes and accelerations as well as GPS/Glonass receivers for positioning. All sensor signals are fed to a central computer that compares them, performs plausibility checks, determines position and direction to go and issues commands to the actuators in the powertrain, steering system and brakes.

And now the communication between the cars and between the car and roadside transmitting stations is adding to the picture. “The communications channel of the automated cars is open, but the messages are not yet fully compliant with the standards. Come autumn, the cars will exchange information in a standard format, also allowing others to talk with them,” says researcher Matti Kutila from VTT.


The next step for the VTT couple will be changing the wavelength of the optical components, increasing the resolution of the radar systems and refine the software that monitors the capabilities of the sensors to enable the vehicles to tackle more demanding weather conditions like slippery road, concealed road edges, or fog. Step by step, more and more complex scenarios are added to the project – things like urban traffic conditions, exit ramps, or snow. At the same time, the researchers plan to crank up the driving speed. However, today’s automated driving technology is in its infancy; the really whopping challenges will not come until 2021 or later.

To achieve all the desired properties and capabilities, the amount of software to control the vehicles will explode, says Kutila. For instance, while autonomous cars and working machines have many things in common, driving is a more complex matter than working in a restricted space. “The working area of machines can be limited, which facilitates autonomous operation”, says Kutila. “In traffic, creating such limits is not as easy”.

Also safety and cyber security threats will be increasingly involved along the research process, Kutila said.

In its R&D project, VTT cooperates with Daimler, Renault, Autoliv, Hitachi, Innoluce, Here, Tieto, the universities of Tampere and Ulm as well as the City of Tampere.

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