Box Clever Wants Drones to Follow Driverless Cars Around

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【Summary】Theoretically, the unit may offer assistance during bad weather or in far-flung locations with choppy network connections.

Michael Cheng    Mar 08, 2018 2:19 PM PT
Box Clever Wants Drones to Follow Driverless Cars Around

Automotive businesses and tech giants are deploying several concepts for streamlining detection and increasing safety during driverless navigation. Box Clever, a San Francisco-based startup, thinks drones are the answer to this challenge.

The company, which has previously worked with Samsung, Google and Microsoft, wants to combine a drone with a self-driving vehicle. During operation, the UAV would function as a scanner for unforeseen obstructions. Theoretically, the unit may offer assistance during bad weather or in far-flung locations with choppy network connections.   

Robust Navigational Tool

Interestingly, the extra layer of protection has advantages for other vehicles on the road. A drone could also communicate with in-car systems and self-driving platforms, when issuing a warning about a collision or slow-moving traffic miles ahead. Moreover, UAVs may send real-time notifications to a nearby pedestrian's smartphone, advising him or her about dangers on the road.

"It's almost like satellite imagery around you while you're moving. The car has a buddy," said Bret Recor, founder and creator of Box Clever. "It's able to go higher and out in front and potentially detect other things that are off the road."

The startup's proposal to include a drone companion with autonomous vehicles comes with numerous challenges. In the future, aerial transportation in urban locations will likely be offered by companies currently developing flying cars, such as Uber, Airbus and Kitty Hawk. The idea of hundreds of drones and flying vehicles buzzing around seems a bit congested and cluttered.

Another concern is, of course, privacy. Drones flying around apartment windows, as they pass through the city, could be intrusive for residents. Even if the unit doesn't focus on pedestrians or locals, it could still (unintentionally) capture private footage within its peripheral scope.

So far, the startup is still in the concept phase. To bring the concept to commercial vehicles, the company has to acquire regulatory clearance, as well as perform countless hours of testing on both closed tracks and public roads. Infrastructure is also required to support drone networks in cities.

Improving Passenger Safety

In addition to exploring drone technology, Box Clever is looking into innovative ways to improve passenger safety inside autonomous vehicles. Traditionally, during a collision, passengers must rely on a functioning airbag to reduce the impact of the crash. Although helpful, such mechanisms are susceptible to premature failure – or in some cases, could be a leading cause of injury.

"I think the Transformers of the '80s cartoons and movies is more of a reality in the next few years," said Recor. "Why can't a side panel actually have a way to position itself for impact rather than just being static and being a crumple zone?"

As a solution, the startup is conducting research on various materials that can shapeshift on a molecular level. In application, a soft blanket (the example provided by Box Clever) could provide warmth for the passenger during casual rides and turn into a shield during an accident. Moreover, the protective blanket may include sensors for adjusting weight distribution, to reduce the initial impact of the crash.

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