As the realities of autonomous vehicles continue to unfold, there’s bound to be an increase in the number of sensors used in vehicles. The current technologies guiding driver assistance systems are the RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging) sensors; LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors; cameras; and ultrasonic sensors. The LIDAR and RADAR have remained the most impactful technologies, and they both share certain similar attributes, but also have certain physical limitations.
Over the last few years, RADAR sensors have been propitious not only in the automotive industry, but in other industries such as air-defense systems, air traffic control, aircraft surveillance, ocean surveillance, space surveillance, meteorological monitoring, and many more. Its application in the automotive industry has been well-established, providing a reliable mechanism for ascertaining the velocity, range, and angle of objects.
The application of LIDAR in the automotive industry has also gained momentous traction, being used to scan through over 100-meters radius to produce an accurate 360° 3D view of the immediate environment to identify obstacles which a vehicle must avoid.
The Drawbacks of LIDAR Sensors Which the RADAR Sensors Are Poised to Augment
The first self-driven cars operated with mechanical LIDAR units which are placed on the top of the host vehicles to generate point-clouds, a large dataset transmitted to a computer for processing. The computer then uses sophisticated algorithms to determine the identity of objects such as cars, buildings, peoples, road signs, etc., and to monitor their dispositions and velocity, in order to predict collisions. However, these initial LIDAR units were plus-sized and exorbitantly expensive.
Companies looking to resolve these drawbacks have been developing solid-state LIDAR radars which generate 3D point-cloud without bulky moving parts or with only MEMS-based movements. These new models are much smaller, scan a narrower range, and are much cheaper.
Their lower prices make it more tenable to place multiple units at corners of a vehicle for a 360° coverage. These units are also used in combination with other technologies such as IR cameras, visual cameras, ultrasonic sensors, RADAR sensors, and a handful of other technologies which generate data that are all transmitted to a central computer.
The powerful central computer then combines all the data to accurately analyze the host vehicle’s surrounding. But be that as it may, the visual capabilities of LIDAR are still susceptible to weather conditions and road debris, and the automotive industry needs a better technology than that for self-driven cars.
The Results of Research on RADAR Sensors
For two decades, researchers have been working on RADAR measurements of vehicles, pedestrians, road infrastructures, etc., to develop RADAR sensors that can be applied widely in the automotive industry.
The developments include algorithms for RADAR self-alignment and false target identification. In another similar development, the researchers worked on image processing that displays 100m road trajectories using RADAR feeds from road edges, barricades, and curbs. Another development leads to the combination of high-resolution visual imaging and high-resolution radar range data to detect pedestrians and predict collisions.
The automobile manufacturer, Jaguar, funded a research on the development of a 24GHz ultra-wideband radar system that probed the effect of rain, spray, pedestrians, and radar signatures of vehicles on the radar system, as well as antenna manufacturing challenges.
Developments in Active RADAR Antennas
Advances in the development of millimeter-wave RADAR has made the technology more advantageous than LIDAR. The most outstanding advantage is that RADAR sensors trump weather disruptions and road debris which impede against the performance of LIDAR sensors.
Active radar antennas are much more efficient in transmitting data concerning the identity, velocity, angle, and range of objects relative to the host vehicle. RADAR sensors also detect objects from a wider range, hence the information they send to the central computer allows for ample time to monitor and predict potential collisions.
The Impact of RADAR Sensors on the Automobile Industry
The results of the research by the Birmingham research team has brought about innovations that have given their sponsors, the Jaguar-Land Rover group, a competitive edge in the automobile industry. The research has also led to the wider application of RADAR systems in the automobile markets.
Prior to this, the RADAR systems, being highly expensive, were used only in military and luxury vehicles. The wide applicability of the RADAR in the automotive industry has also lead to the elevation of technical standards in automobile professions.
The standardization of RADAR systems is also improving road safety tremendously. To guide the deployment of RADAR sensors in the mainstream automobile markets, the EU automotive radar committee has been established to set and regulate international radio standards and radio spectrum management in the automotive industry.
RADAR sensors are set to gain wider popularity in North America and Western Europe, where there’s a large customer base for autonomous vehicles. The RADAR systems are also generating a growing impact on regulations for vehicle safety by governments in several jurisdictions across the globe.