A laser scan of the Empa test track: The researchers want to develop an eye test for self-driving cars and are investigating how the sensors in the vehicle record the environment. (Press picture)
Self-driving cars do not get tired or unable to concentrate. Therefore, they could ensure fewer accidents, so the hope. But how can you tell whether the vehicle’s sensors have become decrepit and need to be replaced?
A team led by Miriam Elser is investigating this in a project that Empa reports on in its “Empa Quarterly” magazine. Because the sensor quality plays an important role in the approval process for autonomous vehicles.
“We are investigating how these sensors work under different environmental conditions, what data they collect and when they make mistakes or even fail,” said Empa researcher Elser. Using the Lexus RX-450h test vehicle, she and her team want to develop the basis for evaluation methods for self-driving cars.
Of the more than a thousand public research papers published in the last five years, only around twenty studies dealt with the quality of sensor data, as Empa writes. It is a well-kept secret of private companies how the data is processed.
But the Federal Roads Office (Astra) would like to be able to regularly assess the functionality of the autonomous systems independently of the manufacturers, according to Empa. In addition, the Astra is preparing for the approval of field tests with self-driving vehicles on public roads. In order to monitor such experiments, it is necessary to be able to assess the “eyesight and judgment” of self-driving cars quickly and precisely.
A goal is also to carry out a kind of «witness questioning» if an autonomous vehicle was involved in an accident. However, the sensors collect enormous amounts of data. In the future, a law must stipulate which data must be stored and made accessible for investigations, wrote Empa.
The project within the framework of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research in Mobility (SCCER Mobility) is co-financed by Innosuisse, business partners and Astra.