Sensor graphic

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Connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) have the potential to transform the future of transportation—but they can’t be effectively connected or automated without sensors. Lidar, radar, cameras, and maps all need to be working together to assure CAV occupants a safe and reliable ride. During a recent Roadway Safety Institute seminar titled “Making Autonomous Vehicles a Reality,” technical fellow Curtis Hay from General Motors (GM) talked about his work developing the sensor technology used in GM’s emerging lines of automated vehicles.

“There’s a lot of focus these days on getting vehicles to communicate with each other, and having a vehicle communicate with a stoplight or a traffic sign,” Hay said. “Vehicle communication is really inseparable from the sensors in vehicle automation.”

CAVs have great potential to reduce crashes and increase fuel efficiency. They might also be used to provide ride-sharing services and minimize the number of people owning cars. But they first need to be proven safe, and for this they need to be able to sense their environment. A variety of different sensor technologies can be used in a CAV, and each one has its benefits and drawbacks. Radar, for example, is good at detecting and avoiding other cars, but it can’t detect painted lane lines. Cameras can fill this gap, but neither cameras nor radar can tell a car where it is relative to its destination or to an upcoming stoplight; for this it needs Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). However, even GNSS can fail if a vehicle is driving in a city with tall buildings or through a tunnel, where the signal is deflected. To account for this, the vehicle needs a detailed map, motion sensors, radar, cameras, and/or lidar to ensure that it stays on course until the satellite signal comes back.

Curtis Hay

Curtis Hay

“Cars are effectively becoming a collection of computers that happen to have wheels and brakes and a transmission,” Hay said. “Every single one of these sensors…is critical for a reliable and safe operation.”

To illustrate how far GM has come with the development of these technologies, Hay showcased a video about the GM Super Cruise—a feature that was included in the 2018 CT6 Cadillac model that can automatically steer and adjust the car’s speed without the driver’s hands on the wheel. This feature, Hay explained, is only partially automated—the driver still has to pay attention and execute complicated maneuvers such as merging—but GM is developing and testing technology to further advance Super Cruise automation.

“We have a long way to go before we are fully autonomous,” Hay said, “but we are taking the steps to get there.”

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