Swiss Researchers Make Autonomous Vehicles Safer By Using WiFi And Shared Sensor Data

Semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles are becoming more commonplace on today's roads, however, they still make up a tiny fraction of all vehicles in operation. Many people are concerned over the interaction between self-driving and manually-operated vehicles, so Swiss researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed an algorithm for autonomous and manually-driven vehicles to safely operate alongside one another in traffic.

Th researchers are currently looking at having automated vehicles travel in convoys. The convoys are managed by an algorithm that collects data from each vehicle's sensors and sends it to other vehicles in the vicinity via WiFi. The vehicles are able to then independently adjust their speed and position, and reconfigure when another vehicle joins or leaves the group. The vehicles also benefit from the “eyes” of their convoy members and therefore have greater perception.

convoy test

Alcherio Martinoli, the head of EPFL’s Distributed Intelligent Systems and Algorithms Laboratory (DISAL), remarked, “We have been working on this type of distributed control algorithm for around ten years. Simply put, the idea is to find a way for agents that are not particularly clever – robots or cars – to work together and achieve complex group behavior”.

The researchers, as part of the AutoNet 2030 project, were able to get their vehicles and software out on the road. The final demonstration occurred this past October on Sweden’s AstaZero test track. The researchers used three vehicles: one automated truck, one automated car, and one manually-driven vehicle. The vehicle driven by a human being was equipped with GPS and laser sensors. There was also a human-machine interface which gave the driver instructions on how to join the convoy. The test was a success.

This technology is still years away from becoming ubiquitous. EPFL scientist Guillaume Jornod remarked, however, that “We are hoping that, with a rise in demand, car-makers will come up with ever cheaper solutions for converting legacy vehicles, that they will coordinate their efforts with the community working on the Internet of things, and that we will be able to deploy and improve this multi-lane convoy system for heterogeneous vehicles.”