German automotive supplier Bosch is making long-range lidar sensors production-ready – the first lidar (light detection and ranging) system that is suitable for automotive use.
The new laser-based distance measurement technology is indispensable for driving functions at SAE Levels 3 to 5. The new Bosch sensor will cover both long and close ranges – on highways and in the city. By exploiting economies of scale, Bosch wants to reduce the price for the sophisticated technology and render it suitable for the mass market. “By filling the sensor gap, Bosch is making automated driving a viable possibility in the first place,” says Bosch management board member Harald Kroeger.
Bosch says that the parallel deployment of three sensor principles ensures that automated driving will offer maximum safety when it is rolled out. Bosch developers investigated all use cases of automated driving functions – from highway assist to fully automated driving in cities. For example, if a motorcycle approaches an automated vehicle at high speed at a junction, lidar is needed in addition to camera and radar to ensure the reliable sensing of the two-wheeler. In this instance, radar can struggle to detect the bike’s narrow silhouette and plastic fairings. Moreover, a camera can always be dazzled by harsh light falling on it.
In lidar systems, the sensor emits laser pulses and captures the laser light that is scattered back. The system then calculates distances based on the measured time it takes for the light to bounce back. Lidar offers very high resolution with a long range and a wide field of vision. As a result, the laser-based distance measurement tool can reliably detect even non-metallic objects at a great distance, such as rocks on the road. This means there is plenty of time to initiate driving maneuvers such as braking or swerving. At the same time, using lidar in vehicles exposes the lidar system’s components, such as the detector and the laser, to many stresses – above all, with regard to temperature resistance and reliability over the vehicle’s entire lifetime.
Bosch has been developing and manufacturing millions of ultrasound, radar, and camera sensors in-house for many years now. Recently, Bosch engineers succeeded in taking the camera technology used in cars to a new level by enhancing it with artificial intelligence. The camera technology detects objects, categorizes them into classes such as vehicles, pedestrians, or bicycles, and measures their movement. In congested urban traffic, the camera can also recognize and classify partially obscured or crossing vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. This allows the vehicle to trigger a warning or an emergency braking maneuver as required. Bosch claims that its latest generation of Bosch radar sensors is even better at capturing the vehicle’s surroundings – including in bad weather or poor light conditions.
Lidar is currently used by companies including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo. Apple is also evaluating the technology.
Last April, Tesla's Elon Musk called lidar “a fool’s errand” that was too costly and said anyone relying on the technology was “doomed.” Tesla vehicles rely on cameras and radars as their vision system for self-driving.