The last 12 months has seen unprecedented development in autonomous driving technology. Traditional car manufacturers are competing with Silicon Valley innovators in a race to roll out the first truly self-driving car. Most recently, Apple announced its interest in developing autonomous vehicle technology and, earlier this year, Ford predicted that it would produce its first car with level 4 autonomy in 2021. Major industry players including Uber, Tesla and Google have begun testing their own self-driving cars, as regulators and OEMs begin to examine how autonomous vehicles, human drivers and other road users can share the road.
However, despite the excitement at the potential that autonomous vehicles offer, areas of concern remain around the reliability of the technology underpinning autonomous vehicles and the impact of widespread adoption on society. Sensors are the key enabling technology in self-driving vehicles as they enable the car to avoid obstacles and navigate safely through road conditions. Osram Opto Semiconductors has been at the forefront of developing automotive-qualified high power pulse lasers for LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems, which are more commonly implemented by autonomous vehicle manufacturers as they offer some striking benefits over other sensing technology, including radar sensors and cameras.
Scanning LIDAR systems, the form of LIDAR technology that will likely dominate the autonomous vehicle sector, uses a pulsed laser beam which is scanned across the field of view in small angular increments. A fast sensor or sensor array then detects the reflected beam to produce long range, high resolution 3D images of the environment around the car. Osram Opto Semiconductors is currently developing the latest generation of 5ns pulse lasers, a laser bar with four individually addressable laser diodes and a driver ASIC integrated into the module. The entire module is surface-mountable, which reduces assembly costs and eliminates the need to adjust individual light sources. Osram Opto Semiconductors developed, together with its partner Innoluce, a reference design of a MEMS based scanning LIDAR using the above mentioned 4-channel laser. This system has shown strong performance with a detection range of more than 200m for a car and 70m for a pedestrian. In addition, the angular resolution was below 0.5 degrees, with a scan rate of 2 kHz.
While scanning LIDAR systems are on the way to providing the performance and reliability necessary for entirely driverless cars, LIDAR is already being implemented in some semi-autonomous applications and will likely be the backbone of the sensing technology in autonomous vehicles. To complement scanning LIDAR, a range of sensor technology will be combined in level 5 autonomous vehicles to ensure absolute safety and redundancy, including radar sensors, cameras and flash LIDAR.
Despite the progress made in the development of sensor technology, there remain some concerns with autonomous vehicles. Data taken from driverless cars shows that the sensors can struggle to recognise cyclists, because it can be difficult for autonomous vehicle technology to predict their behaviour. Continued innovation in sensor technology is required so that autonomous vehicles can operate safely on the road, and Osram Opto Semiconductors is amongst those developing systems that improve autonomous vehicle sensing and ensure that self-driving cars can be released to the mass market.
Walter Rothmund, marketing manager at Osram Opto Semiconductors said: “Our partnership with Innoluce and other technology leaders is generating market-leading solutions for self-driving cars, creating improved sensing systems that provide better imaging of the environment around the car and that make it easier and more cost effective for automotive manufacturers to install these systems. As autonomous vehicles continue to develop, sensors will be crucial to the success of the industry, and Osram Opto Semiconductors is well placed to lead the market in driving innovation in LIDAR system technology.”