There’s a hell of a lot of testing that needs to be done to not only get to fully-autonomous cars, but to even have the sort of technology that a lot of modern cars have today like radar-guided cruise control and active braking systems. This is how they test them.
Youtuber Tom Scott went up to Thatcham Research, a British insurance industry-funded non-profit that looks into how to prevent car crashes, and he took a look at their foam-bot car known as the Global Vehicle Target. The foam-bot replicates a real car to automotive sensors, with the added benefit of being made out of, well, foam.
They can even re-assemble the whole thing, after you’ve plowed right into it, in about 15 to 20 minutes.
But it’s not just foam, as foam doesn’t “look” like a real car to all the sensors attached to the car your driving that are firing off into the distance. They cover it in radar-reflective material, so that not only does it looks vaguely car-ish to your eyes, but that it definitively looks like another car to your cars’ eyes.
The thing is, though, that all your car’s sensors and computer brains aren’t dumb. If they just saw a big block of radar-reflective material, they might not “think” it’s a car. So they’ve had to get the fine details right. The foam-bot’s “windows” reflect the radar just like the real glass on your car. Even the “wheels” and “tires” reflect radar and other electromagnetic beams just like real wheels and tires. To your car, the foam-bot looks just like another car.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the thing is fool-proof. Cars have a hell of a time recognize that other things are “cars” if a moving car pulls out from behind them, and the third car is completely stationary, as people have learned on a wider scale recently. So the foam-bot is being used to develop new technologies to beat that problem.
And then there are other issues. Drivers in different countries drive differently, and react to different situations in different manners. So how do you design one system that encompasses all driving situations in all countries? It’s a bit of madness, and a huge obstacle to driverless cars – and why we think there’s a good chance they might never happen.
But the foam-bot is trying to make sure they do.