Pioneers for the safest approach to autonomous driving

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This article is part of the Electronic Design Predictions 2022 publish

What you will learn:

  • The technology needed to ensure safety in autonomous driving, including the importance of LiDAR.
  • Where is autonomous driving today and what are consumers/businesses looking for.

Where are we with autonomous vehicles and autonomous driving, and what does the future hold? Phonics Alex Guichard answers some of the main questions surrounding this ever-evolving technology.

Where is autonomous driving now? How close is society to seeing autonomous vehicles on the road and how far are we from seeing autonomous driving becoming ubiquitous/much more mainstream?

Currently, autonomous driving and vehicles have reached Level 2 autonomy. This means the vehicle can control both steering and acceleration/deceleration, but the driver can still take control at any time. The goal is to reach Level 5, which will result in fully self-driving cars on the road without the need for drivers behind the wheel – whether used for everyday consumer driving or for commercial needs such as delivery services.

To date, there are two approaches to achieving this level of driving: low cost, which aims to create high performance within a reasonable budget; and high-performance technology, which technicians are trying to make cheaper. This proves that cost and performance are key factors in the development of these technologies.

The problem is that there’s no clear path to success, and this often leads to a “seesaw” effect: when you try to improve on one, the other usually doesn’t improve with it. him. It’s unclear which approach will win the race to bring this technology to the road. However, development is happening fast and furiously.

What is the role of LiDAR in autonomous driving?

LiDAR technology is an essential part of an autonomous driving system to ensure safe operation on the road. LiDAR is essentially the “eyes” of the autonomous vehicle, creating a three-dimensional map of the world around the car.

To detect objects on the road and in the driving path, detection technology LiDAR sensors must have a long detection range and a fast refresh rate for their field of view. If the end goal is to achieve full Level 5 autonomy, high-performance LiDAR is a necessity.

Safety remains a factor in autonomous driving and is a current issue for manufacturers. What requirements ensure that LiDAR sensors provide the necessary data for the vehicle’s perception algorithms to act quickly and safely?

For autonomous driving to continue to grow and innovate, many qualifications must be met for LiDAR sensors, including:

  • Long range, high resolution, high refresh rate and large field of view
  • Ability to work in the rain or in the sun
  • Ability to work in a very wide operating temperature range
  • Rejects interference from ambient light or even other LiDAR sensors
  • Long life and high reliability

The lasers and detectors inside LiDAR sensors need to be in a stable environment to be able to meet these performance requirements, regardless of the environment around the vehicle itself. Moreover, this first list of requirements compensate each other. It’s very difficult to improve how far the sensor can see down the road without reducing the extent of its view or how quickly it updates that image.

Since lasers do not perform well in high temperatures or humidity, it is essential that cooling chips are used in these compartments to ensure controlled temperature. Thermoelectric coolers (TEC) are a solution to this problem, as the chips are designed to cool the environment to the desired operating temperature.

Self-driving is a bit like the Wild West, with new technologies and startups popping up, and with so much still unknown. What are consumers and businesses looking for and how can they navigate this space?

It’s an exciting time to be a customer or manufacturer in the industry because, like in the Wild West, there are still many “unknowns” associated with a myriad of growth opportunities with autonomous vehicles. Manufacturers and technical experts work closely with customers to meet their needs and tackle challenges together, explore innovative technologies and solutions, and brainstorm unique partnerships.

There are currently two types of technical expert customers in the industry: those from the fiber optic space and those from other advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technology companies.

Experts in the fiber optic field understand how FETs work and the benefits they can bring to the sensitive semiconductor components inside the LiDAR sensor. On the other hand, while experts from other companies involved in ADAS may understand the technology needed for the vehicles, they may not understand the cooling technology or how it can lead to better results for the overall sensor. Therefore, two different approaches are needed when working with clients.

Moreover, the design cycle of modern automotive technology (estimated between 5 and 10 years) is a long process, significantly longer than the traditional design process. With everything technically changing during this time, customers and manufacturers need to be flexible. They may have a five-year plan to bring their autonomous vehicle to Level 5, but during that time new inventions, technologies, or a new consumer may emerge.

Consumers find it difficult to trust self-driving due to safety concerns and little information available about the technology used. How can LiDAR technology help keep consumers safe while driving?

In the end, both types of customers, experts in optical technology as well as manufacturers of automotive systems, seek to create safe solutions for autonomous driving. Media coverage around pilot programs that resulted in crashes or technology gaps leading to disasters is one reason many don’t trust self-driving.

Recent research has revealed that only 29% of drivers in the UK said they would feel safe with their own fully autonomous vehicle. It will go a long way to build that trust and that sense of security.

Most people believe that the moving three-dimensional images created by high-performance LiDAR sensors are the only machine vision approach that can enable high-level autonomous driving. Likewise, we believe that the only way to meet all the demands placed on the LiDAR sensor is to use TECs to cool and stabilize the temperature of the sensor’s most critical optical components.

The more we understand LiDAR technology and work to develop it properly, the more society will trust this revolutionary invention.

Read more articles in the Electronic Design Predictions 2022 publish

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