Super GPS brings autonomous cars closer to reality

Sideview mirror on vehicle with precise GPS. (KXAN PHoto)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While it may only be a centimeter at a time, what a University of Texas at Austin professor and his team have been able to accomplish is a monumental step in making autonomous vehicles a part of everyday life.

Todd Humphreys and his team have installed their first car with precise vehicle positioning, which is 100 times more accurate than your standard GPS. In May, the team explained how the system would work, today they’re taking the steps to make it a reality.

“We’re excited to show off this technology and show how mature it’s become,” says Humphreys.

By working with local start-up, RadioSense, and using an app called Lane Watcher, the team is now able to demonstrate the accuracy of the GPS technology. Though the app won’t need to be used with the GPS, it helps to demonstrate visually what’s going on in the brains of the car. The app will show your vehicle on the road and immediately change colors when the car begins to drift.

Lane Watcher app being used in vehicle outfitted with precise GPS. (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)
Lane Watcher app being used in vehicle outfitted with precise GPS. (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)

The joke that no one knows how to drive in the rain is also a concern for the GPS-powered vehicle.

“Right now we are worried that autonomous cars won’t be able to handle heavy rain or snow,” explains Humphreys. “Being able to persuade people to turn their lives over to a robot, requires you to have done your homework to get all the sensors right and sensors that aren’t going to be befuddled in bad weather conditions.”

A big part of this breakthrough is the cost. For example, Google’s self-driving vehicle, which are currently being tested in real-life conditions, can cost more than the average car. The sensor developed by Humphreys and his team is cheap: less than $100. Advancements like these are also helping to bring the reality of autonomous cars to our everyday lives in a matter of years.

“Nobody really knows the impact autonomous cars will have on traffic congestion,” explains Humphreys. “This tech knows if you’ve drifted out of the lane and can tell you down to a few inches that you’ve got to bring the car in. Then ultimately you can wrap a control loop like this and now it can drive the car, keep you in the lane while you’re doing something else.”

The research is being funded by Samsung who hopes to build precise positioning into cars and smartphones. The Texas Department of Transportation is also a partner on the project.

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