Sensor electronics combined with better and more refined software algorithms will ultimately enable a safe fully-autonomous vehicle within the next ten years.
Despite the non-technical media reports regarding the demise of the autonomous automobile in light of a recent death in a Tesla Class S, the sensor electronics, combined with better and refined software algorithms, will ultimately enable a safe, fully autonomous vehicle within the next ten years.
Sensors are the eyes and ears of autonomous driving.
Ears? How about hearing a siren from an approaching police car, ambulance or fire engine and determining the direction from which it is coming before it can be seen by or even in conjunction with the vehicle’s cameras or LIDAR? Or the sound and direction of an approaching motorcycle before it is seen visually by a human driver, LIDAR or camera?
Let’s look at this sensor technology of autonomous vehicles, not from a novice’s eye but with an engineering designer’s view of the electronic sensors that will enable this technology which, in turn, couples to the vehicle’s brain, which is composed of advanced processing and software algorithms.
LIDAR is a system that uses rotating laser beams. This technology is being used in the experimental autonomous vehicle being developed by BMW, as well as those by Google, Nissan and Apple. This laser-based system will have to come down enough in price in order to be used in mass-market cars. In the next few years it will.
Figure 1: A single emitter/detector pair, rotating mirror LIDAR design. This single laser emitter/detector pair combined with a moving mirror enables scanning across at least one plane. The mirror not only reflects the emitted light from the diode, but also reflects the return light to the detector. By implementing a rotating mirror in this application, we can achieve typically 90 – 180 degrees of azimuth view while simplifying both the system design and the manufacturability, since the mirror is the only moving mechanism. (Image courtesy of Velodyne)
Figure 2: Shown here is an application of a conventional single emitter/detector pair laser. (Image courtesy of Velodyne)
Continue reading on EE Times' sister site, EDN.