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Volvo plays with magnets for autonomous cars

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Volvo Car Group is testing road magnets in order to position autonomous vehicles correctly in the road.

The automaker's research project uses magnets embedded within the road to help the car determine its position -- in the same way human drivers use colored markings. While GPS tracking and cameras have limitations in conditions such as poor weather or broken network connections, magnets would be unaffected by these.

Volvo says the research, which is funded in part by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), is "a potential key to the implementation of self-driving vehicles."

Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Group said:

"The magnets create an invisible 'railway' that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimetre. We have tested the technology at a variety of speeds and the results so far are promising."

Volvo's autonomous driving pilot, when ready, will see 100 autonomous vehicles using public roads around the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Adding magnets to road infrastructure could be a simple and a cost-effective way of getting such vehicles on to our streets.

"Our experience so far is that ferrite magnets are an efficient, reliable and relatively cheap solution, both when it comes to the infrastructure and on-board sensor technology. The next step is to conduct tests in real-life traffic," Ekmark noted.

Read on: Volvo

— By on March 12, 2014, 4:06 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure