Engineering 101

Autonomous Vehicles Could Get Safer Thanks to Radar Sensor Module

By Dawn Allcot


Autonomous vehicles using radar/lidar sensors and a camera system can hit the brake in 0.5 seconds if they detect a child running out into the road. This is more than three times faster than a human driver, who typically begins stopping in 1.6 seconds.

But it’s still not fast enough. At a speed of just 31 mph, the vehicle will still move forward another 23 feet before braking occurs and the vehicle comes to a complete standstill. Parents shudder to think about what can happen in that half a second.

But a new camera radar module developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM and partners from both industry (InnoSenT, Silicon Radar, Jabil Optics Germany, AVL, John Deere) and research institutes (Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS, DCAITI) is significantly faster in capturing changes in traffic conditions.

The new unit, no bigger than a smartphone, will have a reaction time of fewer than 10 milliseconds—which, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan makes it 50 times faster than current sensor systems and 160 times faster than the average human driver.

With the new system, a vehicle going approximately 31 mph could stop in just 6 inches once it detected an obstruction – be it a child or another car.

The updated integrated signal processing capacity in the unit allows for all processing to take place directly within the module. The system selectively filters data from the radar system and stereo camera so that processing can either take place immediately or be delayed until a subsequent processing stage.

Non-relevant information is recognized, but not forwarded. Sensor fusion is applied to combine the data from the camera and radar. Neural networks then evaluate the data and determine the real-world traffic implications based on machine learning techniques.

As a result, the system has no need to send status information to the vehicle – just reaction instructions. This frees up the vehicle’s bus line to deal with important signals, for instance detecting a child suddenly running out onto the road.

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