The Technology Behind Self-Driving Cars – DR011

LIDAR systems are key to self-driving cars
The cost of LIDAR systems is decreasing rapidly, much to the delight of self-driving car companies. Photo by Velodyne.

In this episode, Robert and Zaira discuss the technology behind self-driving cars in preparation for the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (#CES2018). Listen in to learn more about the basic functions of LIDAR, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and cameras. The most noticeable piece of tech on self-driving cars is usually the LIDAR sensor (Light Detection and Ranging).  Early prototypes for self-driving cars usually included a dome-shaped LIDAR sensor mounted to the roof. These sensors are great at detecting detailed objects at long distances. For example, they can ‘see’ a dime size object up to a football field away. However, traditional LIDAR sensors are poor performers in bad weather such as rain or fog. And they are also very expensive, although companies like Velodyne are making advances every day to reduce the cost of LIDAR sensors.

Next up is radar. These object may not be able to discern an object the size of a dime, but they can sense larger obstacles at longer distances. Most modern cars that have cruise control systems that speed up or slow down with the flow of traffic use some type of radar sensor.  Future autonomous cars will likely continue to use this reliable tech.

Ultrasonic and cameras are already widely used in cars today. Ultrasonic sensors help with blind-spot protection and cameras prevent us from backing up over our child’s bicycles in the driveway. Future self-driving cars will probably have even more sensors like this than our standard equipped cars of today.

With all this self-driving car tech, some people may be wondering, “What is the optimal mix of sensors?” That is a very difficult question to answer and there are varying opinions, but the human is a great example to discuss this question. There are people with less than 20/20 vision that are still valuable members of society, and deaf people can still drive. Likewise, not all sensors may be required for future autonomous and self-driving cars.

In January, Robert and Zaira will head to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Subscribe on your favorite podcast app in order to listen to future updates about these emerging technologies. Hopefully, Robert and Zaira will be able to get a ride on Lyft’s driverless car at the show.

Listen in to the episode for more details and don’t forget to leave a comment on Facebook.