Smart road infrastructure ‘vital’ to driverless future


Improving road infrastructure by adding smart communications technology will be essential if the driverless car revolution is to take off and play a key role in the future of the transport sector, researchers have stated.

While many teams around the world are developing autonomous vehicle technologies, one area where progress will have to be made is upgrading the roads that these cars will travel on. This is something that is being studied by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transportation Center (MTC).

The Application Resource Center reports that the team has built a 32-acre artificial town called Mcity that is intended to test driverless cars in real-world conditions – and one of their key conclusions is that much of the surrounding infrastructure, such as road markings and signage, will have to be upgraded in order to support this technology.

Director of the MTC Huei Peng explained: “Communication will help cars or autonomous vehicles to see more clearly and further. Future road infrastructure needs to be designed to support those human drivers and robot drivers.”

He added that researchers need to develop a strong understanding of how driverless vehicles see and interpret the world around them – including technology such as cameras, radar and LiDAR. Ensuring that autonomous vehicles are able to communicate effectively with both each other and the road itself will therefore be essential.

MTC has therefore been working with 3M on Dedicated Short Range Communication sensors called “sniffers”, which can be placed in strategic locations along a highway and communicate wirelessly with cars in their vicinity.

For example, one such device placed around local roads alerts cars that there is a speed limit of 19 mph around a corner, while another can monitor the road for ice and then send warnings to vehicles when conditions are treacherous.

Such technology could also be placed at intersections to detect when traffic is incoming and from what direction, in order to help vehicles move smoothly through the junction.

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