Radar Must Become Hi-Def in a Driverless World, Says Arbe

Driverless car accidents will continue to happen until sensor technology can become truly high definition.

That’s the opinion of Bert Fransis senior product director at Arbe Robotics who pointed to several incidents that can be blamed on radar sensors possessing images so crude that the vehicle will miss objects or miss-read its positioning on the road. Speaking to TU-Automotive at the 2019 North American International Auto Show, he said: “We started the company with the understanding that current sensors are completely inadequate for safe autonomous driving. One of the reasons is that today radar sensors are a three-by-four antenna system, like pixels, so it has the equivalent of just 12 pixels in its imaging. This is barely enough to track moving objects and gets completely overwhelmed if it also tries to track stationary objects. This is where some automakers then use camera sensors to patch in. Current radar systems can be confused simply by a fence that can completely block the radar’s ability to see a specific object.”

Fransis suggests that the technology can not advance towards full autonomous functions until sensor definition is greatly improved. He added: “This means today’s technology can only be seen as a little bit of assistance to a driver who keeps eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. We have to improve the resolution of radar and take it up to a range of 48-by-48 total amount of pixels and, hopefully, in future to expand this to 96-by-72.”

To achieve the definition, sensors must become much more complex that they are currently, said Fransis. “You need many, many antenna elements and the challenge is to be able to do that within current power consumption, make sure the system is reliable and that it’s economically viable.”

Pricing will be key to getting improved technology to the market for carmakers needing to maintain a healthy profit margin from vehicles. Fransis concluded: “Currently, there are suppliers providing radar to carmakers for below $100 a vehicle. LiDAR has more resolution but costs several thousand dollars. We need to get radar cost with LiDAR resolution for Level 3 and above autonomous features. The advantage of high definition radar, of course, is that it can work in snow and adverse weather that LiDAR can’t handle.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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