Nissan unveils revamped self-driving system that uses radar and ‘tri-cam’ setup to see, as it sides with Tesla to shun popular lidar after Elon Musk called the technology ‘a fool’s errand’
- Nissan unveiled updated self-driving technology during an event on Thursday
- The firm is hoping to put its self-driving cars on city roads as soon as next year
- Its system uses radar, sonar sensors along with cameras to compile 3D map data
Nissan Motor Co Ltd said on Thursday it would, for now, stick to self-driving technology which uses radar sensors and cameras, avoiding lidar or light-based sensors because of their high cost and limited capabilities.
The Japanese automaker unveiled updated self-driving technology a month after Tesla Inc’s Chief Executive Elon Musk called lidar ‘a fool’s errand’, berating the technology for being expensive and unnecessary.
Nissan, which wants to have its self-driving cars on city streets by 2020, has long shunned lidar, a relatively new technology for automobiles which has recently been the subject of an influx in investment by many of its rivals.
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The Japanese automaker unveiled updated self-driving technology a month after Tesla Inc’s Chief Executive Elon Musk called lidar ‘a fool’s errand’, berating the technology for being expensive and unnecessary
WHAT IS LIDAR?
Lidar is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by shooting a laser at a target and analysing the light that is reflected back.
The technology was developed in the early 1960s and uses laser imaging with radar technology that can calculate distances.
It was first used in meteorology to measure clouds by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The term lidar is a portmanteau of ‘light and ‘radar.’
Lidar uses ultraviolet, visible, or near infrared light to image objects and can be used with a wide range of targets, including non-metallic objects, rocks, rain, chemical compounds, aerosols, clouds and even single molecules.
A narrow laser beam can be used to map physical features with very high resolution.
‘At the moment, lidar lacks the capabilities to exceed the capabilities of the latest technology in radar and cameras,’ Tetsuya Iijima, general manager of advanced technology development for automated driving, told reporters at Nissan’s headquarters.
‘It would be fantastic if lidar technology was at the level that we could use it in our systems, but it’s not.
‘There’s an imbalance between its cost and its capabilities.’
Iijima unveiled Nissan’s own latest self-driving technology, which enables hands-free driving in single lanes on highways on predefined routes.
The technology, to be released in Japan later this year, uses radar and sonar sensors along with cameras to compile the three-dimensional mapping data required for cars to ‘see’ their surroundings.
Apart from sonar, side radar and around-view monitoring cameras, Nissan said it has developed a ‘tri-cam’ that focuses on three points to the front and sides of the vehicle to capture a wide area of view.
Tesla also relies on cameras and radars for its self-driving technology.
Nissan wants to add its self-driving technology to more of its affordable models to boost sales and recover from a profit slump.
When reporting earnings earlier this week, the automaker said it had hit ‘rock bottom’ in the aftermath of a financial scandal involving its ousted Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
Lidar is currently used by companies including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo as automakers and tech firms race to develop self-driving cars.
Lidar technology uses light-based sensors that fire roughly 1 million laser pulses a second as it collects measurements that are analysed and processed into 3D models and maps.
More than $1 billion in corporate and private investment has been pumped into some 50 lidar startups over the past three years, according to a Reuters analysis in March of publicly available investment data.
Still, it is a technology in flux.
Initially using bulky spinning devices placed on the roof of cars, lidar developers have transitioned to more compact solid-state devices that can be mounted on other parts of a car.
These now sell for less than $10,000 in limited quantities, and are widely expected to eventually sell for as little as $200 in mass production.
HOW DO SELF-DRIVING CARS ‘SEE’?
Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.
However, others make use of visible light cameras that capture imagery of the roads and streets.
They are trained with a wealth of information and vast databases of hundreds of thousands of clips which are processed using artificial intelligence to accurately identify people, signs and hazards.
In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.
These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.
While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.
In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.
The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.
They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.
Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers.
An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.
A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.
Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.
A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.
Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.
Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.
Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings.
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