Faculty View: Marco Gruteser

Will self-driving cars transform road travel?  Professor Gruteser is a driving force behind the efforts to ensure that new technologies will improve the safety, comfort, and efficiency of automated driving.

Marco Gruteser is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a member of the school’s Wireless Information Network Laboratory, or WINLAB. Gruteser’s WINLAB team wants to make road travel safer. To meet this goal, they are developing technologies that use communications to give cars the ability to see around corners.

What kind of technologies are you working on?

For the past decade, we’ve been working on different prongs of technologies that use communications to give self-driving cars foresight into road environments. This includes collecting information about near-accidents and corner incidents to enhance the development of self-driving algorithms. We’re also working with connected vehicles and sensor-sharing technologies that let cars see around corners—or even through trucks—to learn about and avoid potential traffic hazards.

How would these technologies work?

The cloud, Wi-Fi hotspots within cars, and Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) let vehicles exchange information. These networks can also be used to collect information about challenging road situations. The communication between cars lets them learn from each other’s mistakes—and see beyond their own lines of sight. Imagine, for instance, that cars equipped with cameras will be able to look through each other’s cameras to share information about what’s happening up ahead or around the next corner.

Is your work funded?

We have funding from National Science Foundation, Toyota, and General Motors and are working with them on designing and evaluating reliable direct communications protocols that will enable wireless sharing of data among nearby vehicles. By sharing information, vehicles can extend their awareness range and virtually see around corners to avoid and mitigate potentially dangerous traffic situations.

How would a car tell you about a potential traffic hazard?

If someone is running a traffic light up ahead, for instance, your car might alert you with a warning tone. Once technology becomes more reliable, and cars become completely self-driving, your car might automatically break—or otherwise respond—to avoid an accident.

When will self-driving cars be available?

Self-driving systems will gradually appear in the market. Initially, they are likely to be limited to small roadways as on a corporate campus, where no other cars can drive. Gradually, use will expand to more roads. In the longer-term future, we’ll likely see cars drive more safely than people. There may no longer be steering wheels at the driver’s seat.

What do you most hope your work on self-driving cars will accomplish?

The big goal is to make driving safer, more efficient, and more comfortable for everyone.