Ja­pan 3D map­ping for driver­less cars

Money to be made

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TOKYO, June 14, (AP): Tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are rac­ing to de­velop ul­tra-pre­cise dig­i­tal maps that can guide self-driv­ing cars within inches of where they should be — a hur­dle the in­dus­try needs to clear if it hopes to de­liver on its prom­ise of widespread use of driver­less ve­hi­cles.

Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment is back­ing a three-di­men­sional map­ping sys­tem de­vel­oped by Mit­subishi Elec­tric Corp. that in­cludes a wealth of de­tails such as trees and pedes­tri­ans. It prom­ises to be off by no more than 25 cen­time­ters (9.8 inches).

That would be a big im­prove­ment over satel­lite­based GPS, which is used by ships, air­craft and in­creas­ingly by driv­ers or on mo­bile phones but can be off by up to 20 me­ters (65 feet), es­pe­cially in­side build­ings or un­der­ground.

The de­vel­op­ers say the im­proved map­ping tech­nol­ogy likely will be used first in ve­hi­cles in iso­lated ar­eas such as ware­houses, or it might be used to help driv­ers of ve­hi­cles that aren’t en­tirely au­ton­o­mous.

Its chal­lenges and dan­gers were high­lighted in March when a self-driv­ing Uber SUV be­ing tested on a street in sub­ur­ban Phoenix struck and killed pedes­trian in the in­dus­try’s first fa­tal­ity.

Au­ton­o­mous, or even semi-au­ton­o­mous, driv­ing will re­quire sen­sors, radars, cam­eras and computer soft­ware to han­dle ac­cel­er­a­tion, brak­ing, steer­ing nor­mally done by hu­man driv­ers.

That re­quires pre­cise and ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about not just road lanes but re­pairs, traf­fic lights, cross­walks and build­ings. That is re­layed to mov­ing ve­hi­cles, which re­quires ad­di­tional telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­nec­tions.

On a computer screen, such maps are masses of tiny points swim­ming around in vir­tual 3D, defin­ing a land­scape of trees, roads, signs, build­ings, cars and pedes­tri­ans.

Data are col­lected by spe­cial ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing sen­sors and cam­eras. Those have driv­ers for now, but at some point au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are ex­pected to take over.

“For au­ton­o­mous driv­ing, 3D high-pre­ci­sion maps will be very im­por­tant, al­low­ing cars to know their po­si­tions ac­cu­rately and also know what the roads are like ahead,” said Ya­suhide Shi­bata, se­nior gen­eral man­ager of Mit­subishi Elec­tric.

Start­ing in Novem­ber, Ja­pan will also get po­si­tion­ing in­for­ma­tion from its gov­ern­ment satel­lites, in­clud­ing three launched last year, called QZS, Quasi-Zenith Satel­lite Sys­tem.

Ja­pan wants driver­less cars on the roads by 2020, with hopes the Tokyo Olympics will show­case its tech­no­log­i­cal prow­ess the way the 1964 Tokyo Sum­mer Games dis­played its new bul­let train to the world.

But map­ping ser­vices are pop­ping up ev­ery­where. Even Ja­panese au­tomak­ers are also woo­ing map­ping ser­vices other than the na­tional brand. Among the global play­ers:

TomTom, based in Am­s­ter­dam. It is work­ing with Ja­panese map maker Zen­rin Co.

Deep­Map, in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, co-founded by James Wu, who worked for Google Maps and Ap­ple Maps. Wu is promis­ing 5-cen­time­ter (2-inch) pre­ci­sion. Among Ja­panese au­tomak­ers, it is work­ing with Honda Mo­tor Co.

Here, co-owned by Ger­man au­tomak­ers and In­tel Corp. It signed a part­ner­ship late last year with Ja­panese elec­tron­ics and car-nav­i­ga­tion maker Pi­o­neer Corp. with hopes of grow­ing in Ja­pan.

Shi­bata

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