Tactile Mobility Aims to Make Winter Driving Safer with its Virtual 'Road Sensing' Technology

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【Summary】Software and data company Tactile Mobility announced a new initiative to work with cities around the world to ensure safer roads during the upcoming winter months. The company is a developer of tactile data and “virtual sensing” technology for the automotive industry, which identify hazardous road conditions using data from a vehicle's on-board sensors.

Eric Walz    Feb 12, 2021 11:30 AM PT
Tactile Mobility Aims to Make Winter Driving Safer with its Virtual 'Road Sensing' Technology

Winter driving is hazardous. During the colder months drivers must contend with slippery road conditions, snow and so-called "black ice", all of which have led to an increase in accidents and fatalities. The recent vehicle pileup in Texas involving more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35 near Fort Worth due to ice on the roadway is the latest example.

While mandated technology on vehicles sold in the U.S. such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) have helped to make driving safer in all seasons, there are new technologies that can improve safety even more. One company working to improve vehicle safety is software and data company Tactile Mobility. The company is a developer of tactile data and "virtual sensing" technology for the automotive industry. 

Tactile Mobility was founded in 2012 and is working with multiple OEMs, road authorities, and municipalities. The company is headquartered in Israel, and also has a presence in Germany, Silicon Valley and Asia. 

This week, Tactile Mobility announced a new initiative to work with cities around the world in Israel, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the U.S. to ensure safer roads during the upcoming winter months. 

How Tactile Mobility's Technology Works

The company utilizes a vehicle's existing built-in sensors, including wheel speed, steering angle, engine RPMs, brake pedal position and other vehicle data to create actionable insights about road conditions in real-time. For example, by gathering wheel sensor data Tactile Mobility's software can determine if a roadway is icy by measuring wheel slip from vehicles traveling on that stretch of road.

Tactile Mobility's innovative technology can enhance vehicle safety and provide cities with insights about their road conditions at a fraction of the cost of existing methods, the company claims.

Tactile Mobility's embedded sensing technology collects and analyzes road condition data using an embedded processor module in the vehicle's electrontronic control unit (ECU). 

The embedded module runs proprietary algorithms using AI to generate real-time info about road conditions, as well as the vehicle itself when it encounters any hazards based on data from the vehicle's sensors, such as wheel speed. Tactile Mobility's technology can also work on an external aftermarket device connected to a vehicle's CANBus network. 

The data from the vehicle is then transformed into what the company calls "SurfaceDNA" in the cloud, where it is further analyzed. SurfaceDNA models road features, including grade, curves, grip levels, as well as the location of road wear, such as bumps, cracks, and potholes.

Once the raw sensor data is uploaded to the cloud and analyzed, it's fed back to the vehicle's ECU, so that on-board advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) systems can better optimize driving decisions in real-time to reduce risk of encountering ice or a large pothole that can result in a flat tire.

SurfaceDNA can help a vehicle's ADAS to better react to hazardous stretches of road by notifying the vehicle before the driver approaches an upcoming hazard. It can also work for autonomous vehicles by "preconditioning" a vehicle's ADAS systems to deal with any upcoming road conditions. 

Many cities across the globe have to deal with poor road conditions due to inclement weather during the winter months, from slippery roads and black ice to hydroplaning and pavement deterioration, such as potholes and cracks. 

However, Tactile Mobility's tactile sensing and data technology enables cities to generate real-time tactile data and insights about road conditions. It can also provide cities with data about specific problem areas, such how roads experience different weather and atmospheric conditions.

For example, a hilly section of roadway may become especially hazardous in the snow, but safe in dry conditions. Using the SurfaceDNA data from the vehicle city planners can be made aware of any areas where drivers often lose traction and need to be extra attentive.

These insights can be displayed on crowdsourced real-time maps, giving cities the tools they need to make road improvements, or at least be made aware of any hazardous areas.

The maps can be used by highway authorities, Department of Public Works, and other city departments to identify and respond in real-time to the level of grip on the road. In icy conditions, cities can be made aware of any areas that might need an extra spreading of road salt.

"Tactile Mobility is enabling safer roads by equipping cities and vehicles on the road with the insights that they need to conduct responsive and preventative road maintenance and ensure safer roads for their citizens," said Eitan Grosbard, VP of Business Development.

Testing the Technology in Detroit  

Tactile Mobility is currently collaborating with the city of Detroit and a major Detroit-based automaker to conduct a proof of concept which demonstrates the power of the company's tactile technology. The automaker was not named.

The pilot project in Detroit is supported by Planet-M, which is a partnership of mobility organizations, communities, educational institutions, research and development, and government agencies that are working together to develop and deploy advanced mobility technologies in the state of Michigan. Planet-M is funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

Equipped with this data, the city of Detroit can detect areas of slipperiness such as ice, water, or additional weather-related elements in real-time and transmit the information to control centers that will alert drivers before reaching such suspected areas. 

Proof of concepts such as the pilot in Detroit, provides the city with a full suite of solutions that provide insights about maintenance and road safety.

Tactile Mobility also provides retrospective "grip" maps, which give cities access to all the accumulated data in the system over time, enabling them to evaluate road conditions and driver behaviors in different weather conditions and seasons. With access to these high-tech maps, cities can identify problem areas and mitigate them, thereby reducing the risks for drivers.

Tactile Mobility's Technology Can Help Cities Better Maintain Their Roads

Many cities today rely on outdated methods of inspecting roads, including using survey vehicles or relying on calls and complaints from concerned drivers about hazards such as potholes. Tactical Mobility can perform these tasks more efficiently using real-time data collected from vehicles to identify poor road conditions or hazards caused by inclement weather.

"With tactile insights displayed on crowdsourced real-time maps, cities have the tools they need to improve highway exits and entries and live hazard detection, come rain or shine. This minimizes dangerous areas due to inclement weather, infrastructural problems and road hazards as well as cutting city costs and saving lives in the process, said Grosbard.

SurfaceDNA insights are also transmitted to vehicles equipped with Tactile Mobility's embedded software, providing drivers with real-time insights about the road conditions ahead.

In September 2020, German automaker BMW signed a commercial agreement with Tactile Mobility. As part of the partnership, BMW plans to equip its vehicles with the company's technology beginning in 2021.

The cooperation between the BMW Group and Tactile Mobility began through BMW's Startup Garage, the Venture Client unit of the automaker.

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