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Tremendous progress has been made on many fronts when it comes to autonomous vehicles. But it remains to be seen when, or if, Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles will become commonplace. Many believe smart infrastructure, such as sensors in roads or street signs and traffic lights that send data to autonomous vehicles, are key to wide-scale deployment.
Beginning this Spring, Motional and Derq will put rubber to the road, testing how autonomous vehicles react when given a broader perspective than they already have. At two intersections in Las Vegas, cameras placed high above the roads are connected to Derq’s AI system. The cameras will transmit data to Motional’s vehicles, providing a different view of some of the toughest intersections they’re navigating.
From the elevated vantage point, Derq’s system can see cars exiting parking lots, pedestrians stepping between parked cars, and cyclists weaving through cars stopped at a red light. Derq claims its system can also predict their movements. Motional’s autonomous vehicles uses a sensor suite of advanced LiDAR, cameras, and radar that see up to 300 meters away and 360 degrees around the vehicle. But further enhancing the technology could help the vehicles navigate these challenging environments.
Initially, Motional and Derq will evaluate the different viewpoints offline. Later in the pilot, Motional’s vehicles will receive Derq’s bird’s-eye-view data in real time to help inform its decision making. The vehicles will process that view alongside the data received through its LiDAR, cameras, and radar.
“We anticipate that along with helping the vehicles navigate challenging scenarios, the extra viewpoint will also enable them to make smoother decisions, leading to a more enjoyable ride for the passenger,” a Motional spokesperson said. “For example, braking more gradually for a traffic obstacle or shifting lanes earlier for an upcoming turn.”
The video below details how this pilot will work:
Motional has a long history in Las Vegas, including operation of a public robotaxi fleet. The two intersections in this pilot are located in Clark County and the city of Las Vegas. Motional said the intersections were selected for their complexity that includes:
- Significant pedestrian and cyclist interactions (pedestrian crossings and bike lanes)
- Challenging sight lines due to trees, signs, and other large obstacles
- Complex vehicle interactions among multiple lanes of traffic
Motional recently began testing Level 4 autonomous vehicles on public roads in Las Vegas. A Motional employee remains in the passenger seat during the tests and can stop the vehicle if needed. Motional can test anywhere in Las Vegas, but said it’s keeping the vehicles in residential areas for now and will only test during the day.
Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, has already provided 100,000-plus paid robotaxi rides in Las Vegas. This service has always had a human safety driver behind the wheel. The vehicles also are required to be in manual mode in parking lots and hotel pick-up areas.
Laura Major, CTO, Motional, recently joined The Robot Report Podcast to discuss the challenges of developing and deploying Motional’s technology, including the service in Las Vegas. She also discussed when the safety drivers could potentially be removed and when Motional’s service will be commercially available to fleet operators. You can listen to the conversation with Major below, starting at about the 48-minute mark.