Despite their best efforts, companies across the globe have struggled to realize the potential of self-driving vehicle technology. Several carmakers are trying to develop autonomous commuter vehicles, but a host of technical challenges are hindering their progress. Similarly, various startups have created self-driving freight solutions, which, while promising, are still years away from scalability.
However, a Chinese startup called Idriverplus has found a way to make self-driving vehicle technology viable. The company overcame one of the biggest engineering challenges of the modern era by rethinking the application of autonomous machines.
Right now, over 100 of the firm’s self-directed street sweeping machines are keeping China’s roads clean.
Performing a Vital Function
For drivers who have to wake up early to move their cars, street sweepers can be a minor annoyance. But the truth is sanitation vehicles perform a vital function, especially in densely populated urban environments. They keep critical throughways clear of tire-puncturing debris and slush that can become black ice in low temperatures.
Despite their importance, street sweepers aren’t the most cost-effective civic utility vehicles. Currently, the city of Chicago pays $168,000 for its street sweepers and spends an additional $40,000 to $45,000 a year in maintenance costs. Furthermore, taxpayers have to cover the salary and benefits of the municipal workers that operate the vehicles.
Idriverplus addresses the need for urban sanitation vehicles with an innovative self-driving solution. The firm’s Viggo autonomous vehicles are keeping the streets in Beijing, Hebei, Henan, Hunan, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Zhejiang cleaner and safer.
Though smaller than the industrial mechanized sweepers, the Viggos are highly efficient. The 870-pound autonomous machines have a running mileage of 25 mph and can operate in temperatures ranging from -4 to 104°F. Furthermore, Idriverplus’ street sweepers are also incredibly versatile. Because of their streamlined form factor, they can clean amusement parks, factories, parks, and universities as well as city streets.
The Technology Behind Idriverplus’ Street Sweepers
To successfully deploy its Viggos throughout China, Idriverplus overcame and sidestepped problems that are impeding Western autonomous vehicle operation initiatives.
For long-distance detection and obstacle identification, the vehicles utilize a lidar system developed by Velodyne. The system gives Viggos the ability to perform free space and real-time object detection. Those two functions allow the firm’s street sweepers to operate in public safely and reliably. Indeed, Idriverplus CEO Dr. Zhang Dezhao called lidar “indispensable in our development of autonomous-driving technology.”
The Sino startup also outfitted its autonomous sanitation machines with cutting edge global positioning sensors to help them navigate complex environments. Utilizing multi-frequency, high precision heading modules made by Unicore Communications, the Viggos can maintain continuity of positioning even if they lose network connectivity.
Idriverplus has succeeded with its contemporaries by approaching the autonomous vehicle problem from a unique perspective. Instead of developing multifaceted self-driving cars that can convey passengers through every environment, the firm created autonomous vehicles that perform one function in an urban setting.
Furthermore, the company street sweepers benefit from decades of public awareness. Drivers and pedestrians know to give street sweepers a wide berth, which makes their navigation of public spaces easier. Accordingly, the firm’s engineers can refine their autonomous vehicle operating systems without having to compensate for the outsized expectations of other commuters.
In other words, the company found success by solving one aspect of the larger self-driving vehicle problem conundrum rather than taking on the whole problem at once.
Driving the Future
Having successfully deployed an autonomous urban sanitation solution in China, Idriverplus is preparing to expand into Dubai, Malaysia, and Singapore. The firm is also developing an SAE Level 4 commercial logistics vehicle. Combining a cloud platform management system and a 360° monitoring system, the company has created functional autonomous ground delivery.
With more than 248,000 test miles recorded, Idriverplus’ self-driving vehicles have already outpaced several Chinese autonomous carmakers. As such, the firm’s sleek and ultra-efficient transportation solution may revolutionize the last-mile delivery sector.
While many companies are vying to dominate that industry, Idriverplus has shown it has the technical acumen and pragmatic thinking to prevail.
Photos credited to www.idriverplus.com
Mario McKellop is a Staff Writer for The Burn-In. In addition to his love for all things tech, he loves a good meme, a trending story with plenty of irony, and all things energy drink related. Mario has written for Bank of America, CBS, Chase Financial, and Time Warner Communications (to name a few). You can find his tech stories at www.theburnin.com.