3M hides tech in sides to help General Motors’ self-driving cars

You can vaguely see the 3M’s bar codes installed in these two traffic signs.Business Insider/Danielle Muoio
  • 3M is the company behind well-known inventions like Post-It notes and Scotch tape.
  • 3M is now helping automakers by tucking hidden messages in traffic signs that only self-driving cars can read.
  • General Motors and Ford are working with 3M to use infrastructure to get autonomous cars on the road faster.

The same company that invented Post-It notes is now helping self-driving cars see the world.

Headquarted in St. Paul, Minnestoa, 3M is behind the creation of everyday objects that everyone uses but no one thinks about. Post-It notes, Scotch tape, and waterproof sandpaper are just a few of 3M’s products that have contributed to its $30 billion in annual sales. The company even created the first reflective signs, which are now standard on all roads.

That last point is key because 3M is using its expertise with signs to assist with autonomous car development. The company, which now boasts 90,000 employees, is tucking invisible messages into traffic signs to help self-driving cars figure out where they are.

“There’s not a lot of discussion around how infrastructure is going to help vehicles get to that Level 4 or 5 — and it will be critical,” Colin Sultan, the head of 3M’s Connected Roads division, said in an interview.

Sultan is referring to fully self-driving cars — ones that don’t need a steering wheel because they can handle any driving scenario. Tesla Autopilot is considered a Level 2 system because a driver still needs to take over in most situations.

Automakers like Tesla, General Motors, and Ford are pouring money into an array of sophisticated sensors and cameras that can help cars detect obstacles and locate where they are on a map. Some experts, however, argue that these sensors are not enough.

There’s a few reasons for this.

A Ford Fusion equipped with autonomous technology.Ford

One example is that systems like Tesla…

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