Autonomous cars have many advantages compared to those with a human driver. They don’t get distracted at the wheel, they don’t exceed the speed limit, they don’t get tired, they don’t fall asleep… But they also have a disadvantage: they don’t see as well. These vehicles are guided through lanes thanks to optical systems that detect the markings on the road. But in adverse situations, such as rain, darkness or fog, they have a margin of error greater than that of the human eye, which is around 2%.
Different projects are working on ways to improve the vision of these cars. And there is one that approaches the problem from an innovative angle. Autodrive doesn’t seek to improve the car, but rather its surroundings. The cars of the future will be intelligent. And the highways should be smart too. Based on this premise, the company seeks to eliminate the blind points by reading in Braille. This is not a play on words, but a more exact way of describing the rough paint that this company has patented, a kind of QR symbols that would be printed on the road. Autodrive uses black paint that is six millimeters high in the center of the lane, something that’s invisible to the driver but which provides a lot of information to the self-driving car: telling it where it is, and at what point on the highway.
The idea is to reduce that 2% shortfall in low-visibility situations with this kind of radar, which provides ultra-precise positioning. It has a margin of error of a single centimeter. In this way, while the self-driving car may lose some visibility, it’s still capable of driving for 200 meters in a safe and autonomous way, giving the driver some margin to take over the controls.
Its application is simple, with just some simple paintings in relief. It’s also long-lasting: the company guarantees that each signal can last for 15 years (or being driven over 14 million times). And the price is affordable: some 200 euros per kilometer in one-lane highways.
The company is Spanish, but has already attracted the attention of the United States. The Federal Highway Administration has contacted the inventors, as have some other international companies and organizations.
The model is still in the development phase. Another more fully realized project is to place it on train tracks, based on the same premise but in simpler surroundings. This is one of the most advanced projects to adapt highways to autonomous cars, but there are more and more of them. The self-driving car is going to take over the road. And the road is preparing itself for the changes that this will bring.