Apr 07

Making sense of sensors that drive autonomous cars

The fatal crash of Uber’s self driving vehicle highlights what many in the industry have been saying all along, the technology is still some years away from being road ready. However, it must not be forgotten that the technology has evolved rapidly from what were initially just hopes and predictions in sci-fi movies and research labs. In it’s current form, self driving vehicles or autonomous cars are miles ahead in terms of overall safety than comparative human drivers.

According to an Huffington Post: “Waymo has logged over two million miles on U.S. streets and has only had fault in one accident, making its cars by far the lowest at-fault rate of any driver class on the road— about 10 times lower than our safest demographic of human drivers (60–69 year-olds) and 40 times lower than new drivers, not to mention the obvious benefits gained from eliminating drunk drivers”

This current state of autonomous vehicles has been enabled by a number of components and sub-systems, which were not available earlier for mass market use. In this article, we discuss the sensors which are like the eyes and ears of the autonomous vehicle. While technologies like ultrasonic sensing for proximity have existed for a while, new sensor types especially LIDAR, cameras/optical sensors and radar sensors are perhaps the most important pieces of hardware in the race to unlock self-driving cards for everybody.”

Kognetics defines the Connected Car sensor market map as follows:

Here we will discuss the three sensor technologies that are enabling the next generation of autonomous cars – Auto Camera & Optical Sensors, LIDAR Sensors & Radar Sensors.

    1. Auto Camera & Optical Sensors have come a long way from preliminary black and white low-resolution systems used in first generation road safety and assistance systems. As computing power has become cheaper, many manufacturers such as Mobileye, Foresight Automotive, InVisage Technologies, Oryx Vision etc. began integrating data pre-processing capabilities into their camera modules, thus offsetting the computing power required from the vehicle central processing units. This enables next generation technologies like sensor fusion which ultimately enable both semi and fully autonomous vehicle capabilities. Automotive cameras are still in the “Early Mainstream” of the adoption phase with many semi-luxury vehicles providing the technology for basic driving assistance features. The sub-industry is experiencing “Very High” funding momentum and has seen most exits in auto sensor space, with large automotive OEMs and semiconductor companies consolidating the space. Some recent high profile acquisitions include – Intel’s acquisition of Mobileye($15 Billion), Freescale acquiring CogniVue, FICOSA acquiring ADASENS Gmbh and Continental AG acquiring ASC(Advanced Scientific Concepts). As the technology heavily borrows from other semiconductor intensive verticals(mobility, personal computing), the overall costs of the devices have scaled down considerably. However, mass market adoption for the technology is also dependent on cheap high speed computing for Autonomous Driving and hence, it is believed that mass market deployment would go in tandem with the same.
  1. Auto LIDAR Sensors use pulsed laser devices to create a high resolution three dimensional view of the environment around the sensors mounted on the automobile. LIDAR is an acronym for “Light detection and Ranging” and the technology is derived from laser ranging technologies used for studying weather and environmental features in high resolution. The core technology was originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s and was adopted for autonomous vehicle implementation in the 2000s. Some of the leading LIDAR suppliers include Velodyne, Continental AG, Denso, Hella AG, TriLumina, Quanergy Systems, LeddarTech, Valeo amongst. It is an emerging industry, seeing very high funding. Acquisitions activity is still low , however, this is expected to increase as the technology matures. A clear evidence of this can be seen in the falling costs of these sensors – Velodyne’s original 64 channel LIDAR cost $75,000, however the company has recently released a version with ¼ the resolution for $4000, a massive decrease from the original pricing. Last year, the company announced that it had set the target price for a solid state LIDAR system at $500, courtesy an order from FORD. The rapidly falling costs alongwith solid-state versions are good indicators of the technology being on the cusp of mass-market production that can be put in mass-market vehicles in the coming years
  2. Auto Radar Sensors use a radio wave based technology that was developed in first of the 20th century and subsequently refined over the years. Auto radar sensors of the modern age work on two frequency bands, namely the older and established 24GHz and the newer and upcoming, High resolution 79GHz band. Kognetics tracks ~30 major automotive radar manufacturers, including established vendors like Bosch, Autoliv, Continental AG, DelphiDenso etc. Although radar systems are common in high end luxury vehicles, mass market deployments are still in its infancy. However, these sensors have found use in autonomous use-cases. In light of the recent rekindling of interest in the industry due to the safety and driving assistance systems, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous use-cases, the industry has seen increase in funding activity. M&A activity is still “Low”, given that the industry has established vendors that are focusing on R&D.

Here are some of the growing private institutionally funded companies in the three industry segments as covered by Kognetics:

In part II of this series, we will explore the software enablers that are driving the autonomous car into the 21st century and the ecosystem as covered by Kognetics.

Kognetics is an Intelligence Augmentation (IA) platform for enterprise decision making. Our platform and solutions are designed to dramatically transform M&A and investments decision making. If you would like us to showcase the platform, or if you would like to know more details about Kognetics, please do reach out to us here.

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