Autonomous cars, also called driverless, self-driving car, and robotic cars, are capable of sensing the surrounding driving environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed and use a variety of techniques to detect their surroundings, such as radar, laser light, GPS, odometry, and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage.

Some demonstrative systems, precursory to autonomous cars, date back to the 1920s and 1930s. Among the potential benefits of autonomous cars is a significant reduction in traffic collisions; the resulting injuries; and related costs, including a lower need for insurance. Autonomous cars are also predicted to offer major increases in traffic flow; enhanced mobility for children, the elderly, disabled and poor people; the relief of travelers from driving and navigation chores; lower fuel consumption; significantly reduced needs for parking space in cities; a reduction in crime; and the facilitation of different business models for mobility as a service, especially those involved in the sharing economy.

The following list of recently published patents and patent applications shows the growing numbers of innovations and inventions relating to driverless or autonomous cars:

9,576,185 Classifying objects detected by 3D sensors for autonomous vehicle operation
9,576,083 Automatic driver modeling for integration of human-controlled vehicles into an autonomous vehicle network
9,575,490 Mapping active and inactive construction zones for autonomous driving
9,573,592 Risk mitigation for autonomous vehicles relative to oncoming objects
9,573,522 Vehicle seat haptic indication of future planned driving maneuvers
9,568,916 Attributed roadway trajectories for self-driving vehicles
9,567,007 Identifying cost-effective parking for an autonomous vehicle
9,566,986 Controlling driving modes of self-driving vehicles
9,566,983 Control arrangement arranged to control an autonomous vehicle, autonomous drive arrangement, vehicle and method
9,563,199 Assisted perception for autonomous vehicles
9,562,777 Autonomous vehicle assistance device
9,562,773 Autonomous vehicle navigation system and method
9,561,941 Autonomous approach and object pickup
9,561,905 Autonomous transport vehicle
9,561,797 Predictive reasoning for controlling speed of a vehicle
9,559,804 Connected vehicles adaptive security signing and verification methodology and node filtering
9,558,659 Determining the stationary state of detected vehicles
9,558,413 Bus detection for an autonomous vehicle
9,557,741 System and method for autonomous valet parking using plenoptic cameras
9,557,737 Distribution decision trees
9,557,736 Detecting street parked vehicles
9,555,885 Automotive drone deployment system
9,552,578 Method and system for authentication of payment card transactions
9,552,564 Autonomous delivery transportation network
9,551,992 Fall back trajectory systems for autonomous vehicles

Here, we highlight here three recent patent filings from Google, Ford, and Amazon. In particular, Google has filed a patent for finding the best pickup locations for its driverless cars. The following video explains how the Google driverless car works:

Google filed the patent in 2015, and it was published in December 2016 with 20160370194, entitled “Determining Pickup and Destination Locations for Autonomous Vehicles.” Aspects of the invention include systems and methods for providing suggested locations for pick up and destination locations. Pick up locations may include locations where an autonomous vehicle can pick up a passenger, while destination locations may include locations where the vehicle can wait for an additional passenger, stop and wait for a passenger to perform some task and return to the vehicle, or for the vehicle to drop off a passenger. As such, a request for a vehicle may be received from a client computing device. The request may identify a first location. A set of one or more suggested locations may be selected by comparing the predetermined locations to the first location. The set may be provided to the client computing device.

When the passenger provides a location, a centralised dispatch system will use Google Maps to provide a list of suggested locations that an autonomous vehicle is able to easily access. This could include the destination suggested by the passenger, or more convenient nearby locations.

Google is aiming to operate its self-driving cars in a fully autonomous mode, where passengers provide some initial input, and then the car manoeuvres itself there. But not all locations are safe or accessible for passenger pick up or drop off. For example, cities may have restricted zones for autonomous vehicles. Additionally, road conditions at the time of the journey, such as construction, speed limits and emergency services activity could pose complications to the journey.

The new patent looks to overcome these challenges. When the passenger provides a location, a centralised dispatch system will use Google Maps to provide a list of suggested locations that an autonomous vehicle is able to easily access. This could include the destination suggested by the passenger, or more convenient nearby locations.

From the accompanying image, Ford’s mock-up envisages a drop-down projector screen as the main viewing method. Ford suggests that viewing material could be transferred to smaller screens when the driver is in control, “such as a display in the dashboard”.

The abstract for the patent, filed in the US at the start of March, describes this screen-switching by stating that “the entertainment system controller presents media content on a first display while the vehicle is operating in the autonomous mode and on a second display when the vehicle is operating in a non-autonomous mode. A method includes determining whether a vehicle is operating in an autonomous mode [….] and transferring presentation of the media content to a second display when the vehicle is operating in a non-autonomous mode.

Amazon has also recently patented a highway network that controls self-driving cars and trucks

The system will specifically help self-driving cars navigate reversible lanes (or lanes that can go both ways). Reversible lanes indicate a change in direction of traffic with an overhead signal, making it a potential disaster zone for self-driving cars that haven’t yet been programmed to understand those signals.

In the patent, Amazon outlines a network that can communicate with self-driving vehicles so they can adjust to the change in traffic flow. That’s particularly important for self-driving vehicles traveling across state lines onto new roads with unfamiliar traffic laws.

A chart showing how the management system will work. A series of boxes shows the flow of work. First box: Start. Second box: Obtain destination for autonomous vehicle. Third box: Detect environmental information associated with environment of autonomous v

In December, the online retailer bought up thousands of its own truck trailers to deliver goods from one Amazon warehouse to another. It’s likely Amazon is thinking about its own self-driving ambitions — particularly since autonomous delivery trucks would eliminate the cost of hiring drivers.

The patent also indicates that the roadway management system will help “assign” lanes to autonomous vehicles depending on where the vehicle is going and what would best alleviate traffic. Amazon’s proposed network would be owned and operated by Amazon, not each individual automaker. It also appears to be designed so any carmaker’s vehicles can take advantage of the technology.

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