A company that invented many basic day-to-day use items helps autonomous vehicles to be better informed about their surroundings.
3M is a company that invented the Post-It, Scotch tape and waterproof sandpaper and many more products that we use everyday . Headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, the company also makes the reflective signs which are now essential on all roads.
3M is using it’s expertise in these reflective signs to help with the development of infrastructure needed for autonomous vehicles. The company will insert secrecy messages in these reflective sign board that only the self-driving vehicles can read and will feed them about traffic conditions and precise GPS location.
There’s not a lot of discussion around how infrastructure is going to help vehicles get to that Level 4 or 5 – and it will be critical,” Colin Sultan, the head of 3M’s Connected Roads division, said in an interview.
Sultan is referring to fully autonomous cars, Level 4-5, that will require no manual assistance and that can handle any driving scenario on its own. Current Level autonomous cars like the Tesla Autopilot is considered a Level 2 system because it needs a driver to takeover after certain time and in specific driving scenes.
Automakers like Tesla, General Motors are spending huge amounts of money and research-development on excellent quality sensors and cameras that will help the car detect its exact location on the map and obstacles around it. However, it is believed that these sensors alone will not be enough. To site a few reasons:
• Vehicles get confused:
Autonomous vehicles that are on the market rely on clear lane markings on highway to keep its course in lane. But if the paint is faded then the vehicles get confused.
• Glitch in the GPS:
The self-driving cars are empowered with high-definition maps that feed them their location information. It gives them a sense of the road ahead looks like. If it is beforehand informed about an obstacle in its way, then the car can maneuver to avoid it safely. But if there is even a half-inch glitch in the GPS then the car gets confused and can cause chaos.
“There are lots of different examples of how automated and connected vehicles may not be ready yet,” Sultan said. “How do we all work together to make sure that we can enable those vehicles on the road, but that they have enough safety redundancies?”
This is where 3M offers solution. The company would plant bar codes in reflective signs that the self-driving cars can read. The codes will provide information like exact GPS coordinates and if there is a traffic light to look out for.
This information is not the primary information that autonomous cars will rely for safe drive but nevertheless, it would be extra guidance just in case.
3M has launched the test of its technology on a three-mile stretch of I-75 in Oakland County, Detroit. The company has joined hands with Michigan Department of Transportation and installed its bar codes in the “work zone” signs and construction workers’ vest so that cars are informed to slow down and be cautious.
General Motors’ Cadillac CTS has been driving through the test-patch to examine the car-infrastructure communication technology. Sultan said 3M has trials all around the globe with different automakers and tier one suppliers. He said Ford and GM are partners, but declined to provide other names.
Autonomous vehicles still have a long way to go. 3M’s collaboration with the government and major automakers shows development in the infrastructure that is needed for the development of self-driving technology .