Dispelling Three Common Misperceptions About Autonomous Vehicles: How Digital Roads Are Paving The Way To Self-Driving Cars

North America’s GeoDigital is building ultra-precise digital roads as the essential building block for the autonomous-vehicle industry

The importance of precise 3D road maps to the future of autonomous cars was recently highlighted by a German car consortium’s plans to buy Nokia Here, a European digital mapping provider, for US$2.7bn.

Major developments are also occurring in North America, where GeoDigital, a big spatial data and analytics expert, is mapping the continent’s highway system with ultra-high precision.

Self-driving vehicles, once considered a futuristic concept, are expected to be an $80 billion industry within just 15 years, according to industry analysts. In the U.S. alone, some experts anticipate the economic benefits of autonomous cars to exceed $1 trillion. Coming to grips with how self-driving cars will one day rule the roads can still be a difficult concept to grasp. But we’re closer to this reality than most people think.

Google’s self-driving car is one of the highest profile examples to date, having navigated the roads of Silicon Valley since 2010. But most major auto manufacturers have also announced plans to roll out autonomous or semi-autonomous cars, with release dates ranging from 2017 to 2020. What is less clear is exactly how these early pilot programs become a mass-production vehicle reality. GeoDigital’s 3D digital road maps may be the foundational infrastructure needed to get the mass-produced self-driving car on the road.

While intelligent-sensing technologies are evolving rapidly, for autonomous-driving cars to truly become mainstream (i.e., affordable, safe and feasible), the vehicles will need to rely on very precise data regarding the roads on which they’ll be traveling. Different from ‘navigation’ style maps, autonomous cars require significantly more data to deliver a smooth and safe driving experience across different conditions. Understanding the importance of such data requires dispelling a few myths about where the industry currently stands.

Myth #1: In-vehicle sensing technologies will work well across all driving experiences.
Reality: In one commonly cited example, in-vehicle sensing is limited in its ability to enable safe and reliable driving on snowy roads. Such driving conditions will require the autonomous vehicle to be equipped with highly detailed maps to augment other systems. In a recent example, a sensing technology being used by one emerging automotive player proved to be less effective when lane markings were not clearly visible. Pre-loaded high-precision maps will enable autonomous vehicles to overcome many of these challenges – staying within lanes when wintry conditions obscure the road or negotiate corners smoothly and safely when traveling on high-speed highways. Only the most sophisticated mapping systems will be capable of collecting the vast amount of data required to navigate such conditions.

Myth #2: All maps are created equal
Reality: “At GeoDigital, we have created the most precise digital road maps available in the market,” says CEO Chris Warrington. “Our proprietary technology uniquely combines LiDAR (akin to a ‘laser range finder’) and high-definition imagery captured by industrial-grade sensors that have been proven in the utility, rail and defense industries. Our enormous investment in technology begets not only the most data, but also the most precise. ”

GeoDigital’s “digital roads” [watch video] include highly specific information to help cars navigate road curvature, road surface information, lane widths and markings, signs barriers, bridge heights and many more features that are critical to enable safe and smooth autonomous driving. To create a digital road with this level of detail, GeoDigital’s sensors collect LiDAR at 800,000 points per second in addition to obtaining high definition imagery. With centimeter level precision, GeoDigital maps have the capability to determine positional accuracy within 10cm.

The technology has already been proven in real-world environments, including field tests and other validation methods to ensure pinpoint accuracy. GeoDigital will emerge with North America’s largest high precision digital road database – well beyond the safe confines of Google’s test in Silicon Valley.

Myth #3: Digital road maps will be impossible to keep up to date.
Reality: GeoDigital has a patent pending for technology that will capture updates where real-world changes will be captured through the industrial cloud by sensor- enabled cars and leverage GeoDigital’s spatial data processing and analytics expertise to integrate changes into the master map in near-real-time. GeoDigital is also in discussions with other automotive industry participants, including state and federal regulatory bodies that oversee the transportation industry, to stay abreast of major road projects.

In the future, cars and infrastructure will become more connected – sharing information about the road conditions and potential hazards. New remote sensing technologies with artificial intelligence will interpret objects and road conditions in real time. As the sophistication of this supporting technology evolves, so too will the backbone of spatial intelligence that supports it. As summarized by CEO Warrington: “GeoDigital is capitalizing on the ever-increasing effectiveness of artificial intelligence. Our strength in big spatial data and analytics, combined with our deep experience in transportation and utilities, gives us the ability and flexibility to innovate as these technologies continue to evolve.” GeoDigital recently named Chris Thibodeau as the General Manager of the Autonomous Driving business unit to lead the digital roads project and expand investment into innovative big spatial data and analytics technologies as autonomous driving becomes a mass-production reality. Learn More about Chris Thibodeau.