Recently, I had an interesting discussion with one of my friends, who knows I work with TI millimeter-wave (mmWave) sensors for radar in ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles (AVs).
My friend doesn’t skip an opportunity to tease me any time he reads about how an autonomous vehicle performed in different driving situations, like obstacle detection. Here’s how one conversation went:
Matt: “If that car had LIDAR, it would have easily identified the object in the middle of the lane.”
Me: “As always, I disagree.”
Matt: “What?! Why would you disagree? There was a camera sensor and a radar sensor in that vehicle, and still the ADAS system totally missed the vehicle in the middle of the lane.”
Me: “When you read about these recent events, you’ll notice that the cameras are often exposed to glare or other elements that cause the camera to miss an object in the road. Cameras are sensitive to high-contrast light and poor visibility conditions, such as rain, fog and snow. In this case, the radar sensor probably did identify the target.”
Matt: “Still, we keep running into different situations that these ADAS and AV systems seem to find very challenging. What is missing?”
Me: “It seems the ADAS’ decision-making system relied on the camera as the primary sensor to decide if the target was really there, or whether it was a false alarm.”
Matt: “So the car’s radar and camera can’t be trusted. So you are left with LIDAR as the only reliable sensor. Isn’t that right?”
Me: “Not quite. LIDAR is not as sensitive to visibility conditions as the camera is, but it is sensitive to weather conditions like fog, rain and snow. In addition, LIDAR is still considered to be very expensive, which probably limits its usage initially to higher-end level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles.”
Matt: “So we are doomed! There is no single sensor that can make autonomous vehicles truly reliable. We will always need all three, which means very expensive autonomous vehicles.”
Me: “You are partly right. Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles will probably need all the three sensors – camera, LIDAR and radar – to provide high reliability and a fully autonomous driving experience.