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How Automakers Use the Brooklyn Bridge to Test Driver Assistance Systems

• Doug Newcomb via

Engineers look at bridges differently than the rest of us. When Jim Nickolaou, an engineer at GM working on advanced safety systems, looks at the Brooklyn Bridge, he admires the structure for its beauty and as a feat of engineering. But he also considers the iconic structure a perfect test bed for the latest driver assist systems on the Cadillac XTS and upcoming ATS.

Nickolaou oversees a team that tests what’s known as “sensor fusion” to see how radar and cameras systems – part of a car’s driver aids – work together. “Sensor fusion has been around awhile on the military side, where you use the best from the different modalities of the various sensors to try and produce results that’s better than just one sensor,” Nickolaou, who worked on radar systems for F14 and F15 fighters jets before joining GM, told Wired. “Radar is good at finding moving objects and finding the range of moving objects through the Doppler shift. Cameras, on the other hand, are better at doing azimuth, or left to right, recognition of those same objects. So what we try to do is take the advantage of both types of sensors.”

Part of the idea behind sensor fusion testing is to intentionally try to confuse the radar and cameras systems that activate a car’s driver assist features such as Automatic Collision Preparation and Front and Rear Automatic Braking. And metal structures like bridges, with their girders and tightly packed traffic are perfect for vetting radar sensors, while cameras have to deal with varying light.

The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t the only one the team included in the tests. But it offers unique challenges to sensors, Nickolaou says, because of the metal super structure, guard rails, walkways and the opposing traffic flow.

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