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Volvo studying In-Road magnet technology to guide self-driving cars

Snapshot: The magnet based positioning technology was tested at Volvo’s facility in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Volvo has always been five steps ahead of the rest of the world when in comes to advanced safety technologies. In its latest project, the Swedish automaker hopes to tackle the pesky hurdles surrounding accurate autonomous car positioning with the help of magnets.

In an attempt to overcome the limitations of other positioning technologies, such as GPS and cameras, which can struggle in certain locations and conditions – in tunnels and thick fog, for example – Volvo Cars' research team embedded round ferrite magnets measuring 40 x 15 mm at a depth of 200 mm below the surface of a 100-meter long test track. A test vehicle equipped with several magnetic sensors was driven on the road at a range of speeds.

"Accurate, reliable positioning is a necessary prerequisite for a self-driving car," says Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Group. "The magnets create an invisible 'railway' that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimeter (10 cm/4 in)."

The recently-completed research project took place at Volvo's testing facilities in Hallered, Sweden. This is just outside Gothenburg, the city hosting Volvo's large-scale autonomous driving project which will see 100 self-driving cars using public roads in everyday driving conditions.

"Our experience so far is that ferrite magnets are an efficient, reliable and relatively cheap solution, both when it comes to the infrastructure and on-board sensor technology," says Ekmark. "The next step is to conduct tests in real-life traffic."

The research was carried out with financial support from the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), which has shown tremendous interest in the potential of the aforementioned technology.

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