Alina Pavel - 1B Nanotechnology
Posted on: January 14, 2017

Renesas Electronics America, in collaboration with BlackBerry QNX and a team from WatCAR, launched their autonomous car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past month. The vehicle, dubbed “Skyline,” maneuvered itself around a test track set up for the show, and also claims to be ‘hackproof.’

The team of University of Waterloo researchers from WatCAR are also responsible for the university’s very own self-driving car, the aptly-named “Autonomoose.” The team of around 20 researchers is led by Steve Waslander of the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering department, and Krzysztof Czarnecki of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. In terms of technical details, the car is a modified Lincoln MKZ equipped with a plethora of sensor technologies, such as sonar, lidar, inertial and visual detectors. These sensors enable the car to recognize stop signs, detect obstacles on the road, as well as change lanes and cross intersections on its own. The software systems on the car are developed by QNX, a subsidiary of BlackBerry responsible for software development. The company has recently been expanding its applications to the automotive market with technologies such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and its proprietary operating system, known as Neutrino RTOS.

ADAS features (such as parking assists and warning systems) are already used in many vehicles on the market today, meaning the concept of a self-driving car is not far off. The Neutrino operating system is marketed as being reliable and fast, with the ability to make decisions and calculations faster than humanly possible, which is crucial to ensuring that the vehicle operates safely and responsively. The implementation of these systems improves the overall safety of the vehicle by increasing autonomy, helping to prevent collisions and injuries due to human error.

The Autonomoose was the first autonomous vehicle to be approved for testing on Canadian roads, meaning driverless cars will soon be able to be tested on public roads – with a human driver in the vehicle at all times as a precaution. One objective of the Autonomoose project is to improve autonomous driving abilities in all-weather scenarios, such as snow, by programming the car to perform difficult maneuvers in extreme conditions. The team also wants to optimize the vehicle’s systems to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, as well as make the computer-based controls more robust, compact, and integrated into the car’s infotainment system. Refining the systems already present in autonomous cars to make them smarter and safer is the key to making them widely available to consumers.

Implementing self-driving cars on public roads will provide many benefits, as Transport Minister Steven Del Duca stated, “For Ontario, the benefits of being part of automated vehicle technology are clear — increased road safety, managed congestion, minimized driver distraction and easier movement of goods and services.”  But not every new technology is without its disadvantages. The introduction of fully driverless cars to our roads will put transportation workers like taxi drivers out of a job for good, and laws and policies will have to be implemented and/or reworked to meet new standards. However, in matters of public safety, these costs are no trouble in comparison to the potential life-saving abilities.

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