Self-driving cars are coming, and Volvo thinks the key to autonomous vehicles is the use of magnets, not video cameras or radar devices. It makes sense, but only if Volvo can get government authorities on board.
Many current autonomous concepts, like those from Ford and BMW, rely on GPS positioning, LiDAR, and cameras to detect road obstacles and stay on the road. These systems work, to an extent, but in poor weather conditions can be less than worthless. The solution, as Volvo sees it, is to use magnets and sensors in the road and car respectively pinpoint the car’s location at all times.
The small magnetic discs are buried eight-inches below the surface of the road, and on a 100-meter test course, this system proved to be the cheapest and most-accurate autonomous vehicle solution. Other systems, like LiDAR and 360-degrees of cameras are expensive additions to the car, and their accuracy is sometimes spotty.
The Volvo system is accurate to within one decimeter, or about four-inches, resulting in the least amount of accidents in testing. Volvo has toyed with other systems, including road trains, but magnets are just all the way around a better idea it seems. Lower costs, better accuracy, and and a real plan for making the entire system viable.
Instead of burying the magnets, Volvo could use them to replace existing road markers along popular routes in cities like New York and San Francisco. Such a system would be expensive to install over the long run, but select sections of highways (or perhaps H.O.V. lanes?) in major metro areas could cater to early adopters of self-driving vehicles. You build out from those metro areas, and eventually you’ve got a driverless, coast-to-coast highway.
Can magnets make autonomous cars truly viable for the masses?