Autonomous driving is the hottest thing in the world of automobiles. Tesla is leading the parade, but virtually every car maker on the planet is pushing hard to bring self driving cars to market as soon as possible. Autonomous systems rely on electronic sensors to replace the eyes and ears of drivers and supercomputers crammed with artificial intelligence capability to substitute for human brains. The array of sensors available include cameras, ultrasound devices, radar, and LIDAR — a laser based system that helps computers draw digital maps of the surroundings.
All of those sensors have strengths and weaknesses. Camera lenses can be obscured. Ultrasonic devices have limited range. Radar typically only “sees” what is in front of a vehicle and has difficulty identifying living things, like people and animals. LIDAR is very good as creating accurate data but is often blinded by smog, smoke, rain, hail, snow, or other atmospheric conditions.
Israeli company AdaSky says it has developed a new kind of far infrared sensor it calls Viper that has no moving parts and can be built at a cost that is “suited for mass market” use. The device senses the heat signature of objects nearby, including cars, humans, and other living things. With a range of a few hundred meters, it may make it possible for autonomous cars to do a better job of detecting bicyclists and pedestrians far enough in advance to allow the central computer time to navigate around them or come to a stop if necessary.
AdaSky’s high resolution thermal camera also works on objects close by, so it can fill in any gaps in coverage from traditional sensors. It functions well in changing light and weather conditions which cause problems for other sensors. It adds another dimension of data input that could make self driving cars safer, thus speeding their introduction to and acceptance by the regulators and members of the public.
AdaSky is showing off its new technology to a variety of car makers, in hopes that it will be able to proceed quickly to commercialization and mass production of its far infrared sensor and technology.