Smart road infrastructure to play a key role in self-driving technology

Honda tests an autonomous vehicle at GoMentum Station. Image courtesy of Honda.

In a 21st century world dominated and driven by groundbreaking technology, driverless cars are set to be the future of transport.

While the on-board equipment inside these vehicles may lay at the heart of  driving this new technology, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transportation Center (MTC) have proposed that the vehicles’ ability to communicate with smart road infrastructure is likely to be equally as important.

The researchers studied how this smart road infrastructure will play a factor in the future of autonomous transport by observing the MTC’s Mcity in action.

Mcity is a 32-acre artificial town built by MTC which tests autonomous cars in real-life traffic situations.

Director of the MTC Huei Peng said that communication between driverless cars and the smart road infrastructure, which is being tested at Mcity, will be the key to developing the autonomous transport of the future.

“Communication will help cars or autonomous vehicles to see more clearly and further,” he said. “Future road infrastructure needs to be designed to support those human drivers and robot drivers.

“We think we need to have a very systematic 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.”

The concept that smart road infrastructure will play a key role in driving the future of autonomous vehicles has been featured in recent media coverage.

A recent article by the Application Resource Center (ARC) highlighted the importance which smart road infrastructure will play in the development and subsequent future of autonomous vehicles.

The article states that while vehicle-to-vehicle communication is critical for the future of the autonomous car, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is what will tie everything together.

The ARC article highlighted that infrastructure that is common place in today’s transport, such as road signs and lines, would be integral to driverless car functionality.

Road sign manufacturer signs on to smart infrastructure

To help with this synergy of smart infrastructure and development of autonomous transport, the biggest maker of road signs in the US has joined forces with the MTC in helping its Mcity facility to function.

3M is a partner of MTC and is responsible for the road signs and lines on the roads of Mcity which guide autonomous cars around the facility.

The lines provided by 3M have a special mesh that helps the sensors of an autonomous car know where they are going.

With state laws such as those in Michigan and the home of Mcity requiring road lines to be painted every year, companies such as M3 have the opportunity to provide the smart infrastructure needed to adequately support the sensors and in-board technology of driverless cars.

Autonomous cars such as the ones tested at Mcity use a variety of sensors to know their current location and where they are headed, with the driverless cars also employing radar and LiDAR to inspect its surroundings and objects in it.

How this technology correlates with the aforementioned smart infrastructure will be the key to ensuring autonomous transport functions to its full potential.