You soon may be able to ask Amazon’s Alexa a question in your car, but if a new patent revealed this week is any indication, the tech behemoth is also working on how to make autonomous vehicles function smoothly.
The patent, first reported by Recode this week, aims to address how autonomous vehicles navigate reversible lanes, which allow traffic to move in either direction typically based on an overhead signal.
Amazon’s patent, filed in November 2015 and granted on Tuesday, says that AVs “may not have information about reversible lanes when approaching a portion of roadway has reversible lanes.”
“Additionally,” it goes on, “an autonomous vehicle may be unaware of an optimal lane at which to enter a roadway that has reversible lanes.”
So the patent poses a solution: coordinate self-driving vehicles through a high-tech roadway management system that can direct AVs to specific lanes on the road, based on speed, destination, number of occupants, and direction of travel.
As the patent describes it, the vehicles in the blueprint above can request to use a portion of the roadway, and the roadway management system, in response, would assign usage of a portion of the roadway to vehicles “in a manner that can optimize for traffic flow, safety, and other considerations.” It goes on:
A request to use a portion of a roadway from a vehicle can include environmental data about the surroundings of a vehicle and about the vehicle itself. For example, the vehicle can capture data about whether other vehicles are in the vicinity or in close proximity to the vehicle, a location of the vehicle, a velocity of the vehicle, an orientation of the vehicle, a number and makeup of passengers, information about cargo of the vehicle, a size and weight of the vehicle, and other data.
If Amazon’s looking to jump into the self-driving-palooza, the patent doesn’t give away much. But the company has ambitions to build its own trucking logistics and delivery network, and in the past year has purchased a fleet of branded trucks. AVs would cut down labor costs by eliminating drivers. Recode also reported that Amazon is rumored to be working on self-driving delivery vehicles through its Prime Air drone division, and noted that Jim Curlander, a technical adviser of Prime Air, is one of the listed inventors for the self-driving patent.
Also helpful to automakers: Recode says the proposed network appears to allow other companies to take advantage of the technology. This could help answer one question when it comes to AVs: How to cover the cost to transform our roads to accommodate the new technology.