Who Will Win The Car Engine Companies, Self-Employed or Those of Digital Technology?

We said in the article prior above the autonomous car whether it is prepared the world for him, what debates there are on the table and what the legal situation by countries (mainly in three major areas, U.S., Europe and Japan. Today we will try to synthesize the State of current technology, and glimpses of If there is any country or any manufacturer or brand that this leading This development.

To start, we can not escape talk about Google. Google, that nothing has, or at least had, to do with the automobile industry, is the name that has given that talk about autonomous car, not necessarily by being the first, although it may seem so, but for being perhaps the most media.

Does technology use a stand-alone car?

A autonomous car you need two fundamental elements to be lead. The first is a “brain” capable of understanding what has to do in each one and instruct the different systems of the car what to do. These systems are automated with actuators and mechanisms: address, accelerator, brake, gearshift or turn signals.

This brain is a computer powerful enough, the order of some five times more powerful than a home computer, to give you an idea. This is because you have to process millions of data and references per second, and do it without mistakes. In general, you use a control strategy based on fuzzy logic to simulate the behavior of a human driver.

The second are “eyes” able to see what is happening around the car, where other vehicles are, what are the rail lines, know where should follow, recognizing signs and traffic lights, see pedestrians, etc. These “eyes” are a set of sensors, various types of general complementary and redundant, to grasp in all directions, in different distance ranges and in different circumstances the car environment.

Sensors, sensors… and more sensors

In general we can speak of the following sensors (although not all the autonomous cars carry all at once):

LIDAR: for some prototypes is the main element, it is a “3D laser radar” (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging) with 360-degree vision that is mounted on the roof of the car. It has a range of about 70 to 100 metres. With the cloud of points which obtains the lidar in every revolution, the computer generates a three-dimensional image of the environment.

For example Google autonomous car uses one large, placed in the ceiling, while autonomous Ford car used four smaller, also placed in the ceiling. It is an optical device, because they emit beams of laser light infrared, not visible, that affect objects and then bounce off and capture by a camera, so that conditions unfavorable visibility may affect you.

The lidar is often considered one of the most accurate systems, with an accuracy of the order of +-2 cm, but can however be mistaken to acknowledge bumps or stones in the road.

Video cameras color: as complement to lidar, or as main vision system if it dispenses with the 3D lidar and is used only a front lidar, multiple cameras of different types are mounted in the car. For example to recognize traffic signs and road lines okay with a conventional video camera.

High definition cameras are used to recognise cyclists, pedestrians or brake lights, and traffic lights, and if you want to create a three-dimensional virtual vision, to understand the space and the distances to objects, a stereoscopic camera is used. Some manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and dispense with the lidar on the roof, that is a little flashy, and thanks to the cameras (and also radar) car outside has one aesthetic like any other.

In general mounted a front and the other two on either side for the stereoscopic vision. If there is no 3D lidar, to see to the sides and to look backward, up to three more cameras can be mounted: one on each side and one back. Video cameras have a range of vision of 150 meters. The cameras are also optical devices, and can also be visibility problems, but in Exchange they can recognize many more elements (with a good recognition software, clear).

Radar: radar (radio detection and ranging) is a system that emits a radio wave that bounces off an object, returns to the car antenna, so that it serves to detect and measure distances. According to the prototype of autonomous car may lead more or less radar. The least is a front radar, which measures distances to the front, and two rear, one on each rear corner of the car, to measure distances backwards, for example to know if vehicles are coming from behind or adjoining lanes (as if they were mirrors).

According to which cases can also be two side radars, one on each side of the car (for example, if the car does not have 360 degree ceiling lidar). They have a range of up to about 200 m. The radars are not infallible: non-optical devices, and they tend not to have visibility problems, but they can give unreliable measurements before certain types of objects, for example a fence, or when match diagonal directions (for example in a curve of RADIUS small, because the radar continues broadcasting signal in a straight line and can be confused).

Ultrasonic sensors: They measure the distance in short range, from about 30 cm up to 5 meters approximately. They tend to be placed in the front bumper, the rear and the sides. They are used primarily to supplement radar and for when the car must park.

GPS accuracy, with two antennas placed on the roof of the car to know where it is exactly at each time and that can orient themselves. This is critical in combination with a real and accurate mapping of the area that will circulate the car. Do not forget: If there is no map and the area is unknown, the autonomous car may not be reliable.

Inertial measurement unit also placed on the roof of the car, measured changes in the speed and steering angle, to know the behavior of the car.

Calculator: placed in the left rear wheel, to accurately measure the speed and distance traveled. This sensor is usually rather dispensable.

Can we speak of a leader in autonomous driving?

He came to be in 2011 when Google He began to show what was able to make its prototype of autonomous car, that he wore trying shortly before 2010, by the way, being 2012 as the year in which the Toyota Prius modified by Google to be experimental autonomous cars, became popular through YouTube (for example with that video of a man blind, name Steve Mahan, who enjoys at the wheel of a blue Prius).

However, to be fair, should not forget that files recall is often considered the first autonomous, self-sufficient car of truth, the prototype of the Navlab Carnegie Mellon University and ALV, of 1984, a few years before.

More or less contemporary with the autonomous from Google, in the same year 2012, car media could cite several more examples, including one very close, as the autonomous car called Platero, of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, here in Spain, which was the result of the program Autopia carrying developing neither more nor less than 15 years: crossed the community of Madrid without having to change millions of views on YouTube.

Are we in Spain more special than in other countries? Because no, rather you are trying to say the opposite: research in autonomous cars is being developed for many years, in many countries, and from different fronts (and is not remove credit to Google, that has it): at universities, in State programs, in programs international, our at European level, with public funds, and also at the private level, with technology companies such as Google, as with car brands, either with the automobile component manufacturers.

Moreover, the most of the times the research is carried out collaborating each other, to make investment easier. For example here in Europe than they do you pilot programmes of autonomous driving as HAVEit can (Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport), went where in the European Union, Volkswagen, Volvo, Continental and other manufacturers, or SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), a project known by Volvo, but where also were involved, the European Commission, and other companies and agencies (Idiada (, Robotiker-Tecnalia, IKA or the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden), or European, most recent, AdaptIVe, again with a few car brands involved.

In other words, is very difficult to ensure that a brand or manufacturer (or a country) is leading the research and development of the autonomous car. In fact, as important as the cars, are the component manufacturers, in a more discreet manner are those who bear a part of the still greater responsibility: for example Continental (which is made with Siemens Automotive a few years ago), Bosch, Delphi, or Velodyne. They are who manufacture sensors and systems that are then integrated into cars.

All that glitters is not gold: the autonomous car still has limitations

If anyone thinks that the autonomous car of Google is the most developed and could sell tomorrow itself, for example of autonomous car very advanced, to know that one thing is what is seen in a video of a few minutes, and another thing is the reality. In the first part already I have been progressing technology today has still some limitations, and eye, which is great and has advanced a lot, but we must not be realistic.

Do you know that only Google autonomous cars work well, and its engineers only rely on them, when they go by? preprogrammed routes and perfectly mapped? They recognize that in streets unknown and areas not mapped the car can lead anomalous way.

It is thus: driving is a very complex task, It is for a human, although it does not seem, and it is for a machine. And in the same way, before rain intense or a Nevada, vehicle sensors are not entirely reliable, and not your complete security cannot be guaranteed. Google project engineers believe that they will still need a few years of evolution and improvement of technology to solve all these small drawbacks. They talk about 2020.

Volvo, another manufacturer which also became quite known in relation to autonomous driving: both as to dare to 100 drivers to test in real conditions of day-to-day autonomous cars in Gothenburg. But eye, that going to do for the areas that are perfectly mapped, if they come out of these areas, and system estimates that cannot drive itself safely, is it will warn the driver and this should drive the car.

Also have been progressing so you in the first part, the same Volvo, who knows that sensors have limitations, has come to proproner a system of buoyage of hidden magnets in the road, when the visibility is poor or any sensor of the car fail.

Videos of sports cars run as authentic pilots have been also very surprising in circuits: the case of BMW, skidding and everything, or the case of Audi in the Hockenheim circuit. They are great, and they are without doubt a major step forward, but happens just as I explained before: the circuit is perfectly mapped and pre-programmed in the computer of the autonomic system of the car, and visibility conditions were optimal. In other conditions and elsewhere would not be possible.

We have already quoted some institutions, Some universities and some brands, like Google, Volkswagen, Volvo, BMW or Audi. I would not be fair that we not citáramos to other brands which are also working on this, and have more or less reached a very similar development level.

For example car autonomous Ford, along with the University of Michigan, General Motors (with the Cadillac brand), Mercedes-Benz, whose prototype made a journey of 100 km by German roads, Toyota and Lexus, which also have their prototype, or Renault and Nissan. And you can still let us out some agency or University (who know us to apologize, which is very difficult to cite them all).

I.e., that both Europe and United States, as Japan is working on autonomous driving, and we can find different brands and manufacturers interested in it. Can is you speak of a leadership course? It is complicated, we leave it to your discretion.

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