Electronically augmented markers help driverless cars see the road

Currently being developed by scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Western Michigan University (WMU), the technology incorporates raised reflective markers of the type that are already in use on many highways.

Packed inside of each unit is a microchip, radio transceiver, battery and antenna. Fifty times per second, the markers transmit data that includes their GPS coordinates.

By continuously analyzing that data, algorithms running on both the markers’ chips and the car’s software are jointly able to determine where the road surface is and where it’s heading – even if it’s hidden from the vehicle’s view.

In field tests conducted in a national park in Montana, the markers were found to transmit their signals over five times farther than the initial 100-m (328-ft) goal. It is estimated that the batteries would need to be replaced about once a year.