Volvo is continuing its focus on autonomous vehicle technology having a research project that involves the usage of magnets to hold self-driving cars on the road. The Swedish automaker says the technology may help improve road maintenance and enable for lanes to be narrowed, as well as preventing cars from running from the road.
The recently-completed research project happened at Volvo’s testing facilities in Hällered, Sweden. This is only outside Gothenburg, the city hosting Volvo’s large-scale autonomous driving project that will see 100 self-driving cars using public roads in everyday driving conditions. It’s also the city where Gizmag’s James Holloway got to have a ride in a car packed with some of Volvo’s autonomous driving technology.
In an attempt to overcome the limitations of other positioning technologies, such as GPS and cameras, which can struggle in certain locations and conditions – in tunnels and thick fog, for example – Volvo Cars’ research team embedded round ferrite magnets measuring 40 x 15 mm at a depth of 200 mm below the surface of a 100-meter long test track. An exam vehicle built with several magnetic sensors was driven on the road at a range of speeds.
“”Accurate, reliable positioning is a necessary prerequisite for any self-driving car, says Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Group. “”The magnets create an invisible ‘railway’ that literally paves the way for any positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimeter (10 cm/4 in).
That the magnet-based positioning technology offers benefits other than just keeping self-driving cars on the streets, although ekmark says that it will be entirely possible to place autonomous vehicles on the road without changes to present infrastructure. Preventing damage to snow-covered objects by winter road maintenance crews and enabling lanes to become narrowed are simply two other possibilities given by the accurate positioning information provided by road-integrated magnets.
Ferrite magnets are an efficient, relatively and reliable cheap solution, both when it comes to the infrastructure and on-board sensor technology, says Ekmark,. That’s “”Our experience so far. “”The next step is to conduct tests in actual-life traffic.
The investigation was carried out with financial support in the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), which is interested the potential of the technology.
“”The test results are quite interesting, especially when adding the potential for improved safety also the advantages for the development of self-driving vehicles, says Claes Tingvall, Traffic Safety Director with the Swedish Transport Administration. “”A big-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim to pioneer technology that contributes to sustainable mobility.