Increasing demand for driver assistance systems and the need for better sensors has prompted Sony to enter the market for automotive imaging sensors. Beginning in 2015, Sony will make a new sensor available that performs much better in low-light situations. Even in moonlight the sensor can produce color images, the company claims. Sony, which is a leading supplier of image sensors but so far has not entered the automotive imaging market hopes to grab significant market share from the leading automotive imaging sensor suppliers such as US-based Omnivision and ON Semiconductor (formerly Aptina).
Better sensors are crucial for the success of fully autonomous vehicles. Advanced image sensors could reduce the dependence of autonomous vehicles on costly 3D Lidar systems. Better image sensors could reduce the number of Lasers within the rotating LIDAR systems. Google’s current LIDAR sensors currently contains 64 lasers. However, it is not likely that fully autonomous vehicles operating in urban contexts will be able to operate without any LIDAR sensors within the next few years.
Sony’s entry into this market shows the potential of this market and may increase the incentives for innovative start-up companies to developing even more advanced sensors (e.g. ASCar, Inc: Flash Lidar, LeddarTech: LED flash sensor, Quanergy: 3D Lidar).
Over the past weeks the board of automotive supplier Continental has reoriented its long-term strategy. Acknowledging that automated driving will be a key element in the mobility of the future the board has outlined a path to fully automated driving and created an “Advanced driver assistance systems” business unit. Continental already has more than 1000 specialists working on automated driving technology.
By 2016 Continental plans to have driver assistance systems in production that can operate on freeways in stop&go situation (below 30 km/h). By 2020, they will make highly automated driving possible – i.e. autonomous operation on freeways up to 130 km/h. This should fit well with the time frame outlined earlier last year by the Japanese government for enabling autonomous driving on Japanese highways. Continental then plans to provide more fully automated driverless technology by 2025, but still envisions automated driving as being restricted to the freeway. It is hard to see the difference between their highly and ‘fully’ automated driving in their scenarios.
Two days after this announcement, Continental became the first automotive supplier to receive a test license for autonomous driving in Nevada. Their test car has already driven more than 24000 km apparently on highways and in stop-and-go traffic. The car is equipped with current, production-grade sensors and is able to operate without the costly LIDAR system used by most other autonomous vehicles.
This new strategic focus by Continental is an indication of the fundamental shift which is currently gaining momentum in the automotive industry. Within the next two to three years we expect to see the auto makers acknowledge and come to understand the full implications of this trend.
Driverless technology researchers gathered at the beginning of June for the IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium. With almost 200 presentations from more than 600 authors probably no aspect of this technology was left untouched.
This was not just an academic get-together: many of the papers involved major car makers (BMW, Toyota, Daimler, Renault, Volvo, Opel, Volkswagen, General Motors, Hyundai) or automotive suppliers (Delphi, Bosch).
The conference started with a reportedly captivating keynote presentation by Google’s Chris Urmson. Unfortunately, I have not been able to obtain more detailed information about its content. Please contact me if you were there!! Robert Bertini (Intelligent Transportation Systems Lab) gave another keynote on the environmental issues related to intelligent transportation which took the perspective beyond technical issues towards societal and environmental impacts.
It is hard to pick out the most interesting papers. But Daimler presented a new approach for improving stereo vision using a ‘Stixel’-based approach for object recognition. They claim that they are able to reduce false positives by a factor of 8 over the state of the art while reducing the computational costs by a factor of 10.
China also seems to be moving ahead with driverless technology. Two papers (1, 2) were presented from participants of the annual Chinese driverless vehicle competition (‘ Future Challenge of Intelligent Vehicles’) funded by their National Nature Science Foundation.
Driverless cars are heading to Nevada: Continental Automotive Group, a subsidiary of the German automotive technology supplier, revealed last week that it has started test driving a modified Volkswagen Passat on Nevada’s streets (both city roads and highways). The Passat has been equipped with Continental’s technology for highly automated driving. It has driven more than 6000 miles on city streets and highways, 90% in autonomous mode. Once it passes the state-required 10 000 mile minimum test-drive limit, the car could become one of the first to receive an autonomous car license in the Silver State.
(Image source: Continental)
In contrast to the Google car, the Passat is not intended for autonomous operation at all times. It is a test bed for for Continental’s automated highway and traffic jam technology which can alleviate the human driver from boring driving situations. The close-to-production technology is also much cheaper than Google’s driverless car technology because it does not involve a costly LIDAR sensor.
With Continental another major player has publicly entered the race for driverless car technology. Whereas car makers are still dragging their feet on the technology because of doubts about cannibalizing their product lines, the business case is much more favorable for automotive technology suppliers. Delphi, Valeo and the likes will not be far behind…