News Roundup: Waymo Gives Driverless Cars Ears As Well As Eyes, Russia Debuts Autonomous Grain Harvesters, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries over the past week:

New self-driving technology by Google’s Waymo gives cars ears as well as eyes

Company representatives from Waymo say new technology they have developed checks off yet another box in the efficiency of driverless cars — being able to sense sound as well as physical objects in the car’s surroundings. Up until now, cars like those developed by Waymo have featured a series of cameras and Lidar and radar sensors to help visually detect obstacles in the car’s way, such as pedestrians, animals, changes in road conditions and the like; but then there’s the matter of sound. For example, human drivers usually hear disturbances like sirens from emergency vehicles or the screeching of tires that can signal a collision may be about to happen, before they see it. Waymo engineers said they felt being able to “hear” obstacles is almost as important as being able to see or sense them, so they have designed a stereoscopic microphone that can pick up sound from twice as far away as their previous cameras and sensors, and can also detect in which direction the sound is coming from, to help pinpoint the source. Test cars featuring the new microphone technology have already been deployed in Chandler, Arizona, and are already showing promise. The cars are already collecting a vast database of sounds from a variety of sources to help future vehicles recognize sounds even faster. Read more from WIRED magazine.

 

Autonomous trucks designed to protect road workers debut in Colorado

According to reports, being a road worker is one of the most dangerous jobs there is. Countless workers are injured or lose their lives every year as they are hit by vehicles in passing traffic while they perform maintenance or repair work on the side of the road. In Colorado last week, autonomous trucks debuted that are designed to follow behind road workers and act as a barrier to protect them. Typically, these types of trucks are driven by other workers, but even that proves dangerous as the trucks are often hit by cars, injuring or killing the drivers. The autonomous trucks now being tested in Colorado are electronically “tethered” to another truck in front of them, and are programmed to immediately pull over if that electronic tether is broken or disconnects. The trucks and their underlying technology were developed by Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment, in partnership with Colas UK out of Britain. Read more and see video footage from KGWN-TV.

 

Autonomous grain harvesters debut in Russia

Russia has debuted what is believed to be the world’s first autonomous grain harvester. The machine was designed by Cognitive Technologies and drives itself through a field, pulling up grain–a task that used to be controlled by a human driver/operator. The debut of the machine, called the Rostselmash RSM 181 Torum, took place in Rostov in southeastern Russia. Company spokesperson Andrey Zuev said the machine took five years to develop and is much lower cost than other types of driverless vehicles to build and operate, mostly due to the fact that it only requires a single video camera to detect obstacles and seek out grain to harvest. The machine’s single video camera can sense all five types of obstacles needed to do its job – grain (even as short as 30cm), edges and rows, sloping ground, parts of the machine that are in the path of the camera, and all other objects such as other machines, trees, non-grain plants and more. Cognitive Technologies expects its Rostselmash autonomous grain harvester to be ready for mass production by 2023-24. Read more from Grain Central.

Image: Autonomous trucks follow and protect road workers in Colorado / Credit: CBS

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