Volvo Car Group has completed a research project using magnets embedded in the roadway to help the car determine its position. The research, which has been financed in strategic co-operation with the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), is a potential means of implementing self-driving vehicles.
Reliable and highly accurate positioning is one of the crucial issues in the development of self-driving cars. While established positioning technologies such as GPS and cameras have limitations in certain conditions, road-integrated magnets remain unaffected by physical obstacles and poor weather conditions. Accordingly, the use of road magnets has attracted some academic research, as well as a number of patents filed on different approaches.
As one example, the California PATH (Partners for Advanced Transportation TecHnology) Program at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1990s developed one such system using magnetic markers embedded under the roadway for lateral guidance. This system was demonstrated during the August 1997 National Automated Highway System Consortium Feasibility Demonstration, San Diego, CA, without a single failure.
The magnets create an invisible ‘railway’ that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimeter. We have tested the technology at a variety of speeds and the results so far are promising.—Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Group
Volvo Cars plays a leading role in a large-scale autonomous driving pilot project in which 100 self-driving Volvo cars will use public roads in everyday driving conditions around the Swedish city of Gothenburg.
Our aim is for the car to be able to handle the driving all by itself. Accurate, reliable positioning is a necessary prerequisite for a self-driving car. It is fully possible to implement autonomous vehicles without changes to the present infrastructure. However, this technology adds interesting possibilities, such as complementing road markings with magnets.—Jonas Ekmark
In parallel with the potential in the field of autonomous driving, road-integrated magnets open up a number of other possibilities:
Incorporating magnet-based positioning in preventive safety systems could help prevent run-off road accidents.
Magnets could facilitate accuracy of winter road maintenance, which in turn could prevent damage to snow-covered objects, such as barriers and signs, near the road edge.
There is also a possibility of more efficient utilization of road space since accurate positioning could allow lanes to be narrower.
Volvo Cars’ research team created a 100-meter long test track at the company’s testing facilities in Hällered outside Gothenburg, Sweden. A pattern of round ferrite magnets (40x15 mm) was located 200 mm below the road surface. The car was equipped with several magnetic field sensors.
The research program was designed to evaluate crucial issues, such as detection range, reliability, durability, cost and the impact on road maintenance.
Our experience so far is that ferrite magnets are an efficient, reliable and relatively cheap solution, both when it comes to the infrastructure and on-board sensor technology. The next step is to conduct tests in real-life traffic.—Jonas Ekmark
The test results are very interesting, especially when adding the potential for improved safety as well the advantages for the development of self-driving vehicles. A large-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim to pioneer technology that contributes to sustainable mobility.—Claes Tingvall, Traffic Safety Director at the Swedish Transport Administration
Bento, L.C.; Nunes, U.; Moita, F.; Surrecio, A. (2005) “Sensor fusion for precise autonomous vehicle navigation in outdoor semi-structured environments,” Intelligent Transportation Systems, 2005. Proceedings doi: 10.1109/ITSC.2005.1520055
Han-Shue Tan; Guldner, J.; Patwardhan, Satyajit; Chieh Chen et al. (1999) “Development of an automated steering vehicle based on roadway magnets—a case study of mechatronic system design” Mechatronics, IEEE/ASME Transactions on doi: 10.1109/3516.789684