Why Autonomous Driving May Be At Risk Of ‘Urban Canyons’

Tue 14th Jul 2020

The future of motoring and driverless cars in crowded cities could be in jeopardy as skyscrapers may block the GPS signal which is guiding the vehicles.

And while the number of tall buildings in large cities across the planet continues to grow, the challenges of autonomous cars in urban areas has presented innovative solutions.

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the number of buildings above 200 metres across the globe rose by 650 per cent in the last five years, and that number is to rise by 20 per cent again in 2020 alone.

Tech company Oxbotica has warned of the loss of GPS signal, describing the proliferation of skyscrapers as creating ‘urban canyons’.

“Even a standard three-storey building is enough to create signal disruption at ground level,” Oxbotica said.

“And the problem is worse at higher latitudes where satellites tend to be lower in the sky. If no suitable fallbacks are in place, this can affect autonomous vehicles in these environments, including mass transit shuttles, buses, city delivery vehicles and cars.”

Existing solutions provided by motor manufacturers is to guide cars through other means, such as radars, cameras and lasers, which can work in tandem to support GPS.

However Oxbotica founder Paul Newman believes his company has found another solution. He said:  “My first job was in the maritime positioning industry where we were providing alternatives to GPS positioning systems for ships and oil rigs in the Gulf Of Mexico two sun-cycles ago, now I'm in conversations about the same problem hitting autonomous vehicles on our roads.

“While it is harder to figure out your location using vehicle-mounted sensors rather than being told it by GPS, the rewards are many. 

“Entirely new commercial opportunities open up - working underground is no different to a high street, an autonomous shuttle is no different to a haulage truck in a mine. 

“This is a powerful concept and underpins our Universal Autonomy software platform.”