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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Bringing Safety to Driverless Cars

Draper takes a human-centered approach to engineering solutions for self-driving cars

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Driverless cars are already testing on our roads and will become more common in the future. And how they are equipped will change how we get around forever. Draper—a company with a heritage in developing autonomous systems in unforgiving environments such as undersea, in space and for military applications—is advancing the state of driverless cars with several new technologies.

“The future of self-driving cars begins with making sure the vehicle is safe even without a human at the controls,” said Eric Balles, director of transport and energy at Draper. Balles and his team study self-driving cars and develop technologies that are being tested and adopted by a number of automotive customers.

He added, “Engineering autonomous vehicles so that they can operate safely in rugged, demanding and fast-changing environments like we do at Draper is critical to ensuring the highest level of driver, passenger and public safety.”

Draper’s decades of experience in designing, developing and deploying autonomous platforms for space, air, ground, sea and undersea needs has led the company to develop technology solutions for self-driving cars. Three of those technologies will be on display at the Autonomous Vehicle Summit 2018, an event held at Draper and hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) New England. Online registration for the event is open.

Drowsy Driver Detection
What if your car could keep you from falling asleep at the wheel? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates that between 2005 and 2009 there was an estimated average of 83,000 crashes each year related to drowsy driving. Draper is advancing technology for a neurofeedback system to help change those statistics. Sensors built into the driver’s headrest could detect brain waves that signal the beginnings of drowsiness and trigger an alert to the driver.

Current LiDARs have limited range and resolution, and their many moving parts can make them expensive to manufacture and prone to failure. Draper’s chip-scale solid-state LiDAR is an affordable and scalable solution with the performance to enable a driverless car to travel safely at highway speeds. Draper is working with an Automotive Tier 1 supplier to co-develop this technology and bring it to market. It is anticipated that LiDAR-on-a-Chip will be providing 3D mapping in all lighting conditions to select self-driving cars in 2024.

Inertial navigation complements cameras, LiDARs and radars to ensure the continuous, accurate navigation driverless cars need. But to tap the benefits of inertial navigation cost-effectively requires an affordable high-performance gyro. Draper has developed a MEMS gyroscope with a fraction of the error and costs of current commercial high-performance gyros. The technology builds on expertise from decades of delivering military-grade navigation solutions and is ready for integration into a vehicle.

The Autonomous Vehicle Summit 2018 and symposium is being hosted by Draper Thursday, April 5. It will convene industry representatives to discuss perspectives on current market activities, implementation challenges and next steps for an autonomous vehicle integration policy for the New England region.

Draper has previously applied its multidisciplinary engineering capabilities to a variety of related programs including the tiny, robust communications and navigation devices; persistent surveillance systems; and sensors and navigation systems for drones.

Draper is taking a human-centered approach to engineering solutions for self-driving cars by developing technologies built for safety, such as Drowsy Driver Detection.
Capabilities Used
Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.


Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

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