A Sim For Self-Driving Cars

By Aglaia Staff

THE ERA OF the self-driving car hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s already expanded the auto industry, with Google and (reportedly) Apple, scouting new territory to invade. So far the field has been dominated by big players, because they’re the only ones with the resources to do serious work. Small startups typically have been shut out—until now, when they can use an autonomous vehicle simulator.

The Driving Simulator and Vehicle Systems Lab—mercifully nicknamed the SimLab—in San Jose will provide access to research-grade simulator facilities to startups developing advanced automotive technology. The goal is to help smaller enterprises to compete. Anyone can rent time on the sim to develop safety and efficiency improving technologies they can then market to auto manufacturers or industry suppliers. “It’s open to everyone, and that’s new. That’s the reason why we did this,” says Dr. Lutz Eckstein, chairman of the board for fkaSV, the company running SimLab. Simulators are usually the property of automakers, companies like Google, or research centers at universities. But, Eckstein says, “any startup or any company that is interested in presenting or evaluating or optimizing their technology can come here.”

The unpronounceable name fkaSV is a collaboration between the startup incubator ProspectSV and fka, a spin-off of the Institute for Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

The SimLab isn’t limited to autonomous tech, but any advanced automotive systems. Imagine, for example, you’re driving a connected car that can anticipate when a light will turn red. If you’re in that automotive purgatory of “Do I gun it and possibly run this light or hang back and wait for the next one?”, a smarter car with a head up display can minimize anxiety and maximize efficiency by telling you what to do, says Eckstein. Your gut says Slam the brake or accelerator! But your smart car can say Just relax. We got this.

Access to a pro-level simulator allows smaller enterprises that don’t have Google-level funding develop and test these kinds of products. SimLab users can mine data and then use it to further refine their tech and get it road ready. Step 1: Simulation. Step 2: Market to car manufacturers. Step 3: Profits … and more efficient cars!

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