Navigant Research Blog

Sensor Fusion Maps: More Than the Sum of Their Parts

— May 6, 2015

Touch. Taste. Smell. Vision. Hearing. The human brain continuously takes in these sensory signals, processes them, and fuses them into a whole that is more than just the sum of the parts. Engineers around the world are working to develop an artificial form of that same sort of sensor fusion in order to enhance the robustness of future autonomous vehicles.

Senses and Sensors

When we sit down to a meal, the appeal of that food is affected by far more than our taste buds. If a prime cut of steak were boiled into a grey slab, even if the taste were not affected, the visual signals to our brain would render it less desirable than if it had been seared over an open flame. No matter how well it might be prepared, if your sinuses are clogged from a cold, a plate of curry just doesn’t taste as good. The crunch when you bite into a fresh carrot stimulates your ears and your sense of touch in your mouth, but the same root steamed into mush has a totally different impact.

Since the 1970s, engineers have been steadily adding sensors to vehicles to monitor wheel speeds, airflow into the engine, engine knock, roll rates, distance to other vehicles, and more. Each sensor was added to enable a specific function, but over time, as engineers became confident in the reliability of the sensors, they built on that functionality. The first modern step toward the autonomous systems that are now being tested were the Mercedes-Benz/Bosch anti-lock braking systems from 1978.

Fusion

Forward-looking radars and cameras enable adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings. Side-looking radar and ultrasonic sensors power blind spot detection, cross-traffic alerts, and active parking assist. Today, each of those functions operate largely independently at different times. The automated highway driving assist systems coming from Tesla, General Motors (GM), Toyota, and others in the next 2 years merge those signals and functions into more comprehensive control systems that enable the driver to go hands-off in certain conditions. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that the majority of new vehicles will have at least some degree of automated driving capability by the mid-2020s.

This is made possible in large part by fusing these previously disparate signals to harness the advantages of each sensor type, producing a more cohesive view of the world around the vehicle. Radar sensors are useful for measuring distance and speed to another object, but not for recognizing the nature of that object. Digital camera images can be processed to distinguish pedestrians, animals, objects on the road, and signs while lidar sensors can produce remarkably detailed 3D maps of the surroundings. Vehicle-to-X (V2X) communications provide additional real-time information about what is happening even beyond the line of sight of the driver and sensors. These and other signals can be merged into a comprehensive real-time moving image that the vehicle can navigate through with a high degree of precision.

T-U Automotive Detroit

Experts and practitioners in the fields of telematics, autonomous systems, and mobility will be coming together at the T-U Automotive Detroit conference, June 3–4, 2015 in Novi, Michigan to discuss sensor fusion and many other related topics. Anyone interested in attending can save $100 on the registration fee at www.tu-auto.com/detroit/register.php by using the promotional code 2693NAVIGANT during checkout.

 

Funding Smart Buildings to Limit Climate Change

— March 3, 2015

The inefficiencies in commercial building operations have direct implications for the country’s carbon footprint. With climate change still a political stalemate, the Obama Administration has instead taken aim at energy waste in buildings, with voluntary programs led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that are making waves in the private sector. Energy efficiency challenges, showcases of business best practices, and now a call for private sector financial commitments to fund technology development are all targeting business transformation.

At this year’s ARPA-E Summit, the Obama Administration announced a $2 billion Clean Energy Investment Initiative as a challenge to the private sector to fuel investment in the kind of innovation needed to tackle the threat of climate change. Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget explained, “Further clean energy innovation to improve the cost, performance, and scalability of low-carbon energy technologies will be critical to taking action against climate change. Foundations and institutional investors have the potential to play an important role in accelerating our transition to a low-carbon economy and cutting carbon pollution.”

Anteing Up

Wells Fargo stepped up to the plate with a $10 million Innovation Incubator (IN2) program to support early-stage energy efficiency technologies for commercial buildings. A collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the program offers startups grants, mentorship, research and testing support at NREL, and field testing in Wells Fargo buildings.  The effort will not only help startups develop commercial-ready business models, but also generate proof-of-concept demonstration for innovative technologies. In conjunction with the launch of the Clean Energy Investment Initiative, Wells Fargo also announced it will expand investment partnerships with other financial institutions to bring more money to the table in support of the $2 billion target.

New building technologies remain a bright spot for clean tech investment. In fact, according to statistics from Crunch Base, venture funding for building technology innovations characterized as Internet of Things (IoT) solutions has steadily risen, even as more general clean tech investing took a dive. A recent article on TechCrunch suggests that almost 40% of all clean energy rounds in 2014 went to IoT smart building startups.

Direct Impact

Recent research from Navigant Research echoes the optimism around growth in the market for building innovations. Building energy management systems (BEMSs), for example, leverage the IoT to deliver unprecedented visibility and insight into building and significant improvements in energy consumption and resource utilization. Our recent report, Building Energy Management Systems, shows that the business impacts facilitated by BEMSs have direct and quantifiable climate change impacts. A growing pool of funding sources for companies helping to evolve this maturing marketplace is just one example of the benefits that may come from the Clean Energy Investment Initiative.

 

Japanese Automakers Harness PEV Power

— February 2, 2015

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) may provide far more value to their owners than just reducing gasoline costs and greenhouse gas emissions.  The significant energy and power capacities of the PEV system can be utilized to provide power during a blackout, curb commercial electricity ratepayer demand charges, power offboard equipment at work sites, and help grid operators balance supply with demand.  Each of the above uses requires, or is strengthened by, PEVs equipped with bidirectional capability – meaning the vehicle can both absorb electricity from the grid and return it.  Most PEVs available today, however, lack this capability.

This is because automakers don’t yet see a market for vehicle-to-grid integration, and they’re concerned that the use of vehicle batteries for purposes outside of motive power may shorten the batteries’ lives.  Test pilots in major PEV markets are answering some of these concerns, as well as developing the processes by which a PEV’s bidirectional potential may be harnessed.  The center of action is in Japan.

New Models

In Japan, the Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are all sold with bidirectional capability as an option.  Each model can connect to an offboard inverter through the vehicle’s direct current (DC) charging port to enable a reverse power flow.  The offboard equipment only enables the PEV to supply power back to an owner’s home in the case of an outage, not back to the grid under normal circumstances.  Its purchase is subsidized by the Japanese government.

Though the system’s use is limited to emergency outage situations, this relatively early adoption of the technology in comparison to other large PEV markets is providing a launch point for testing other PEV power possibilities.  Nissan has already begun testing a fleet of LEAFs in curtailing commercial demand charges at one of the company’s facilities through the LEAF to Home system.  Similarly, the LEAF to Home system is also undergoing tests in grid balancing services.   A number of similar tests are underway in the United States and Europe as well; however, no vehicles have yet been made available to the mass market with bidirectional capability as they have been in Japan.

Two Ways Are Best

To date, using PEVs in grid balancing services represents the most interesting case from a revenue-generating perspective.  Though a PEV does not necessarily need to be bidirectional to service the grid, the revenue potential of a bidirectional PEV in grid services is significantly higher in comparison to that of a unidirectional PEV.  Tests and simulations in the United States indicate that the revenue potential of one bidirectional PEV can average around $5 per day of grid service.

This revenue potential provides a significant new incentive for PEV adoption.  However, it’s unlikely such a scenario will emerge unless energy companies and utilities pave the way for PEVs in grid services and automakers outside Japan offer bidirectional PEVs.  Please join Navigant Research’s webinar, Electric Vehicles and the Grid, at 2 p.m. EST on February 10 as we examine in detail the market drivers and challenges of using PEVs in grid services.  Click here to register.

 

Building Innovations Form Pivotal Spokes in the Circular Economy

— February 2, 2015

The annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has come and gone again, and the usual irony of 1,700 private jets delivering the global elite to discuss climate change and inequality was perfectly ridiculed by Jon Stewart last week. But, beyond the spectacle of outsized wealth, there are some valuable economic and policy projects that hold promise outside the weeklong schmooze-fest.

In particular, the Circular Economy, an ongoing project at the forum, aims to tackle the current paradigm of consumption in light of a future of constrained resources and exponential growth in demand.  The Ellen McArthur Foundation, which supports an ongoing dialog on the circular economy explains the concept as thus:  “A circular economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services.”  An important question is how the theory of the circular economy can become tangible, which was a hot topic for this year’s discussions in Davos.

Rethink, Remodel

In the run-up to this year’s event, a Forbes article explained that the circular economy “requires businesses to rethink more than just their resource footprints and energy efficiency. It demands a more radical remodelling of business models.”  Reflecting on the big ideas of the circular economy, it seems the intelligent building, smart city, and innovations in energy management could be an ideal proving ground for these concepts in action.

The intelligent building is characterized by automated and responsive systems that maximize efficiency in consumption and productivity.  Intelligent buildings offer a new sort of resource that extends beyond the walls of any single facility to support key goals of grid modernization and the development of smart cities.  The technology exists to enable this kind of facility optimization, and investment in intelligent buildings and smart cities can demonstrate the benefits of a circular economy.  The following examples highlight how companies are bringing solutions to the intelligent building and smart city marketplace that align with the opportunity of the circular economy.

  • Philips has committed to the circular economy and the company’s lighting as a service offering aims to engage cost-constrained customers and manage the end-of-life treatment of lighting and system components.
  • Schneider Electric and Autodesk have announced a new partnership to bring innovation to building lifecycle management and “drive a deep and long-term transformation in the construction industry, providing greater value to each user and contributing to solve the energy challenge.”
  • Cisco’s position is presented as an “engineering strategy around the Internet of Everything [supporting] the transition to a circular economy, with new connected devices enabling the tracking of products, components and materials for re-use and recovery; new business models through greater connection with customers; and more effective reverse logistics chains.”

While the circular economy might seem like a lofty ideal that will demand major shifts in our consumption mindset, advances like these demonstrate steps in the right direction.

 

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