New Lighting Systems Enhance Perspectives for Autonomous Driving

Thanks to LiDAR, cars will be able to independently evaluate situations and decide whether to slow down, brake heavily or even accelerate in order to avoid harm to passengers and pedestrians. (Source: Osram)

Although the race to produce the next generation of automobiles is well underway, there’s still a lot to do before we can simply read a newspaper while the car drives us home fully autonomously. In point of fact, up to now we’ve only managed to reach level two of the five levels of automated driving defined by the US-based Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE. Even though distance and lane keeping assistants are helpful during long, tiring drives, nobody can casually take their hands from the steering wheel or look at anything other than the road. The first luxury saloons with SAE level three functionality, where drivers can remove their hands from the steering wheel for longer periods, will be taking to the roads this fall.

But a lot more engineering breakthroughs are still needed before we can travel around in truly self-driving vehicles. A key area is the car’s capability to independently sense what is happening in the driving environment. For a vehicle to brake in good time, it must be able to recognize a danger such as an animal leaping across the road in front of it. Light opens up new opportunities in this regard, and is becoming increasingly important in areas such as navigation and environmental recognition. The eye of a human driver is reliant on visible light. In future, however, a vehicles sensors will use invisible light to obtain the same information.

A new and decisive function will be played by infrared radiation, and so-called LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) systems are at the forefront of these pivotal developments. The car’s environment is scanned in real time using infrared light, and sensors pass on the information to the self-driving vehicle’s control system. Objects in the car’s environment, reflect back the invisible light. These reflections are sensed and measured by detectors before being converted to a digital signal that can be processed by the vehicle’s central computer. In this way, the computer is able to create a continually updated 3D image of the area surrounding the car. One day, cars will be able to independently evaluate situations and decide whether to slow down, brake heavily or even accelerate in order to avoid harm to passengers and pedestrians. Technologies of this kind are vital in making self-driving vehicles a reality.

It is also clear that the necessary speed of innovation can only be achieved through new partnerships. Traditional makers of automotive technology with a long history in the industry are looking to collaborate with new players who bring a high degree of algorithmic expertise. Forming such alliances in an agile manner will become a core competence.

An example of an alliance made with the purpose of advancing navigation using lighting technology is Osram’s recent investment in the Canadian company LeddarTech. The company develops hardware and software for LiDAR technology, a remote sensing method that promises to be an essential component in autonomous driving.

Moving forward, we will probably be seeing a lot more such investments, cooperations or even takeovers across the entire high-tech industry hoping to stake a claim in a future autonomous driving market. The race for key technologies is resulting in an increasing number of cross-sector collaborations and alliances, with players acting as development partners and system integrators. “Platforms“ and “Systems” are seen as the key to completely self-driving vehicles. Although opinions differ widely as to when these visions will actually become reality, there is general agreement that we will one day be able to read the newspaper in the car instead of having to keep both eyes on the road. (Source: Osram)

Links: Osram Group, Munich, Germany

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