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Mitsubishi's Ambitious Plan to Develop Advanced Maps for Driverless Cars

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【Summary】To ensure accuracy, the mapping system receives up to 27,100 light points per second. This figure goes up exponentially when high-density laser scanning units are used, enabling the platform to collect millions of light points and generate clearer images.

Michael Cheng    Dec 15, 2016 9:45 AM PT

According to industry experts, there is one crucial component that is holding back the release of self-driving cars on a commercial level: detailed, 3D maps. This is because the vessels, in order to ensure safety during operation, must utilize other guidance mechanisms, beyond sensors and cameras (based on insights from Shun Kuriaki, manager of Mitsubishi Electric's IT Solution Department in the Electronic Systems Group). In locations that experience bad weather and low visibility conditions, highly accurate maps are essential.

Currently, there are several companies focused on developing robust mapping systems for driverless cars. In the US, both Google and Apple are leading the group with the technology baked into their respective navigation apps. On the other side of the world (Europe), Audi, BMW and Daimler have strategically acquired Nokia's HERE map ($2.7 billion) and are now leveraging the platform for their autonomous vehicles.

In Asia (specifically Japan), Mitsubishi Electric recently announced that it will also ramp up its digital mapping efforts under a Tokyo-based product called Dynamic Map Planning, which is backed by the Japanese government.

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Advanced Safety and Driving Measures

As mentioned earlier, 3D maps can help autonomous cars navigate open roads in unfavorable, outdoor conditions. During bad weather, including heavy rain or snow, cameras and sensors mounted on the vessel loses effectiveness. As a result, the vehicle may have a difficult time detecting lanes and traffic signals. To help navigate around treacherous roads during such occurrences, self-driving systems could rely on sophisticated maps that provide precise data about the measurement of lanes and location of road signs. It would also be possible to utilize vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) features for real-time updates about the vessel's environment.

"Mitsubishi has gathered together a consortium of fifteen Japanese auto-related companies, including manufacturers Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, and map maker Zenrin, to create detailed, high-definition 3D maps of Japan's 340,000 kilometers of expressways, national highways, and other roads," said John Boyd from Asia Times.

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"Point Cloud" Technology

The company's Mobile Mapping System is the main driver for the project, which is supported by laser scanners, cutting-edge cameras and GPS sensors. When mapping operations are active, the system starts by capturing the exact location of the vehicle using GPS. As the vehicle starts moving, laser scanners are deployed to capture a detailed outline of the area, using "point cloud" technology. The process involves rapidly pinging objects around the vessel to generate images. Mitsubishi engineers confirmed that the technology is efficient up to seven meters and accurate up to 10 centimeters.

To ensure accuracy, the mapping system receives up to 27,100 light points per second. This figure goes up exponentially when high-density laser scanning units are used, enabling the platform to collect millions of light points and generate clearer images.

"When more detailed maps are required for applications other than autonomous driving, a camera synchronized with the laser scanner takes images of the objects simultaneously. Later, in post-processing of the data, the point cloud data and the camera images are combined to produce these comprehensive 3D maps with color added if required," said Boyd.

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