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Defensive Driving: How Radar, LIDAR, and Cameras Will Stop Road Carnage

For those of us old enough to remember road carnage movies during driving school classes, or for who have actually witnessed such horror first hand, the impact is unforgettable.

With the advent of the seat belt, unshatterable windshield glass, and the airbag, deaths have been cut down over the decades, although there are still far too many of them. The next advance in automotive safety is moving full steam ahead, and it’s quite possible that in the very near future, death by car will become a very rare occurrence.

Companies like AutoLiv, Quanergy, and Torc have been working on systems with advanced capabilities that degrade the likelihood of high impact accidents to the point that soon, serious accidents will be a thing of the past. Most folks in the industry believe that technology will never be a 100% failsafe method of preventing accidents. But it’s a great place to start.

Torc has been around for over ten years and is the longest run AI company in existence currently ensconced in creating fully self-driving vehicles. Their list of capabilities in driving autonomy are second to none. I witnessed a real-time situation whereby a one-way driver going the wrong way down a street threatened the passenger in the Torc POC vehicle. The Torc vehicle slowed down, and waited for the errant driver to move away. A human may have swerved into the next lane to avoid the one-way driver, but the Torc vehicle stopped because it “saw” a car coming in the adjacent lane and waited for it to safely pass.

The Torc technology uses radar and LIDAR, and has a number of sensors all over the car that allow it to respond to almost any situation. It’s list of 39 capabilities includes: performing high-speed merges, u-turns, perform turns within traffic, obey rules at 3-way stops, and adjust lane positions for cones. Torc cut their teeth with heavy machinery giant Caterpillar so they truly are a leader in the field of safe, driving autonomy.

AutoLiv is a worldwide consortium of automotive safety specialists who have a platform called LIV: Learning Intelligent Vehicle. Originally, this group was the “go to” for airbag and safety belt technology. They have 70K employees in 28 different countries. Their entry into radar, LIDAR, and cognitive load estimation was a natural progression considering that they currently deal with every OEM. This group of technologists are doing their best to turn humans in carborgs, or visa versa.

They combine external and internal sensing with a complex algorithmic AI that can identify a driver’s physiological state, and automatically make adjustments to the vehicles functionality (i.e.following distance, braking pressure, speed, etc.). This collaboration is called HMI or “Human Machine Interaction”. It has the capability of determining when to heighten certain systems, turn them down, and then aggregate the data so it can improve its performance day to day. The system understands certain physiological factors it reads in the driver’s eyes and makes adjustments accordingly.

Quanergy specializes in LIDAR and smart sensing solutions. In general terms, LIDAR is great for real-time 3D mapping, localization, object detection, tracking and classification. LIDAR makes the world a much safer place to drive...but a much more expensive one as well. According to Akram Benmbarek, all LIDAR detects motion (dog running into the road), volume (big dog), but at a very high price. The Quanery difference is in the cost of the life saving sensor technology all cars should have but will likely be offered as expensive options for some time to come. Their sensors will be silicon-based. That brings the price way down on a technology that should not be income-biased.

Until all of these technologies are implemented, the highways and byways will remain dangerous. Radars and LIDARs will likely never be available as an aftermarket option as the retro-fitting would be far too expensive and liabilities way too high for an insurer to underwrite. However, once the technology becomes affordable for the masses and the safer driving data gets crunched, it’s highly likely that the overall cost of ownership will go down. With accident estimates showing collisions dropping off by 90%, and the human factor all but eliminated, who will be around collecting those expensive auto premiums for "high risk" drivers, sanctioning body shop repairs, padding or denying medical bills, or burying aggressive teen drivers before their time?