European researchers are working on a new project where electric vehicles will pick up their owners after being fully charged. This is part of the V-Charge project which is funded by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme and is technology being designed to address challenges of the future related to attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Paul Furgale is the deputy director of the Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich and he believes we have to rethink our transportation systems in order to facilitate a smooth transition to electric vehicles from fossil fuels. He acknowledges the fact that existing EVs are undesirable for consumers because of the short range and lack of performance. He believes it is necessary to combine EVs with public transport elements.
The project is coming to a conclusion and is dedicated to creating electric cars that become autonomous to the stage where they can drop off a driver, find the nearest charging station, charge, find a parking spot and return to their driver’s location for a pick up. According to Furgate, the driver would be ceding control of the car to the on-board system. A Smartphone app would be used for this process and it would be used again in order to call the car back.
The research team is comprised of Europe’s top scientists and they are using inexpensive sensors that are almost market ready. These sensors can be integrated into EVs to allow them to drive autonomously without needing constant access to the GPS signal. Furgale said the car had to access its environment in real time and must be equipped with smart software and ultrasonic sensors which have the ability to detect the location of objects within their environment and also to calculate their trajectories.
Yet Furgale admits that driving autonomously at low speeds in underground garages and car parks possessed risks that would not be apparent when driving on a motorway. As people are unpredictable in areas where cars drive slowly, it would be tough for the car to figure out if the objects are static or moving and must also determine the direction and speed of the object’s movement. This means calculating hundreds of trajectories a second.
The research team has performed autonomous tests with a converted VW Polo which had 12 ultrasonic sensors, four fish eye cameras and stereo cameras at the front and back of the vehicle. When these sensors are combined, they can calculate the vehicle’s position in relation to other objects (such as pedestrians and other cars) and ensure the car is safely parked. The V-Charge project team believe their creation is almost market-ready; their main concern is to make the parking algorithms even more precise to ensure the vehicle can find the charging point and put itself in the right position for a charge.