In this third blog post following the press day ADI hosted in Limerick, Ireland, I’d like to provide my perspective on technology innovations I shared with the media that are defining the rapidly evolving autonomous transportation and automotive safety sector.

The concept of autonomy just five or 10 years ago was far-reaching, out of the grasp of reality, in the realm of science fiction even. But over the last five years we have taken great steps to make this more of a reality for people around the world.

When I talk about autonomy, I’m referring to the ability of a vehicle to perceive the environment around it and navigate safely through three-dimensional space with minimal human intervention. Analog Devices has laid the foundation for autonomous systems over many years thanks to our dedication to RADAR sensing, LIDAR technology and inertial measurement systems.

Autonomous vehicles will always require multiple sensors, which creates a challenge when it comes to understanding how to balance so many different sensing modalities. Overcoming those challenges requires that we find an intelligent way to combine various sensors so we can deliver the safest, best quality autonomous system without significantly increasing size, weight, power or cost.

As the technology matures, this concept, or what we call sensor fusion, is becoming even more critical. Today’s systems are largely independent, meaning that the RADAR systems operate with RADAR inputs, and the camera systems operate with camera inputs. There is very little interplay between individual sensing systems. That’s a problem because no single sensing modality is suited to all applications or environmental conditions. For example, cameras are exceptional at reading signs and seeing colors, but in bad weather or low-light conditions they don’t perform as well. RADAR can supplement those weaknesses. Likewise, LIDAR technology, which holds the promise of much higher resolution and longer range, has issues with size, weight and power that need to be addressed before it can be more widely deployed.

Commitment to Safety

Within the automotive marketplace, our mission is guided by the concept of Vision Zero, a multinational, road safety mandate to eliminate fatalities in or by an automobile. Developed by the Swedish government and automaker Volvo, the Vision Zero initiative has been widely embraced by the automotive supply chain and is a testament to what can be achieved if we work together to solve these very difficult technical challenges. In fact, if you look at our crash sensor technology, our RADAR technology and our gyroscope technology for stability control applications, our estimate is that ADI sensors save approximately eight lives per day.

 

This statistic is built on nearly 30 years of automotive safety technology beginning in 1993 with our invention of the first monolithic airbag crash sensor, the ADXL50. Within two years of their debut, our MEMS-based airbag sensors became a mandatory automotive safety feature legislated by the U.S. Congress.

Today, we’re seeing similar developments in areas such as RADAR. Whether it’s part of Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) protocols or Europe’s New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), the innovations we bring to market are designed to save lives by enabling a new class of safety features that I expect will become standard within the next few years. These include at least three technologies that ADI is helping to define and bring to market.

  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB): Starting in 2022, this will be standard fitment on all new automobiles. AEB uses Doppler RADAR that is typically mounted in the front of the car and has a range of 100 to 250 meters. AEB systems measure velocity to determine the vehicle’s speed and direction to ascertain if there is a safety issue that requires the car to take action and stop.
  • Automatic emergency steering (AES): A more advanced safety feature, AES can both brake and steer the vehicle. Here, the RADAR technology is augmented with an inertial measurement unit (IMU) that manages the motion of the car and allows it to steer out of harm’s way. This is an important step because AES represents the fusion of two fundamentally different sensors to further improve vehicle safety.
  • Driver monitoring technologies: Monitoring the health of the driver is a key issue we must resolve as we move from Level 2 autonomy, which relies on very simple sensors and use cases, to Level 5 autonomy, where there is no steering wheel. I envision purpose-built hardware and algorithms will be developed that understand if the driver is focused on the road, is tired, unwell or inebriated before determining if s/he is able to take control of the car in an emergency.

How do we do all this? If you look at the automotive industry just 10 years ago, we did not necessarily have a full comprehension of the scope of these systems or understand how to implement them effectively and efficiently.

Today, at ADI we have car prototypes completely outfitted with our safety sensors.

This is an important step, because in addition to developing the semiconductors that go into the design, we need a greater understanding of the complex use cases that must be addressed to achieve full autonomy. We’ve also developed a series of algorithms and software that sit on top of our chips so that we can comprehend and react to these challenging use cases. Systems such as these also allow us to have a much richer dialogue with our OEM partners as we define our next-generation solutions.

I would say, overwhelmingly, that the major OEMs are all investing in driver assistance and autonomous technologies by defining these use cases and trying to fulfill the Vision Zero imperative. When it comes to what gets me going, what drives my work on a daily basis and what motivates Analog Devices’ engineers, it’s the opportunity to not only solve some of the most complex engineering challenges in the electronics industry today, but also to save lives and make such a substantial positive impact on society.

Watch the complete video of the “Autonomous Transportation and Safety” presentation I gave in Limerick here.

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