The car of the future: a brain on wheels?

The car industry is going through a fast evolution. According to some speakers at the Imaging & MEMS Summit, organized by SEMI in Grenoble (19 until 21 September), this evolution is not just a breakthrough, but rather a big bang! A big bang not happening in the future, but now! A summary of some interesting visions.

by DSP Valley

Automotive quality

In line with this big bang statement, Luc Bourgeois, expert leader for ADAS and AD systems at Renault, explained how Renault today focuses on smart vehicles. The company more specificly focuses on autonomous driving vehicles, connected vehicles and their related mobility services, and on electric vehicles. The main challenges are in the autonomous driving vehicle. The basic technology is available, but the sensing is not at the right level yet for the performance and the robustness in an automotive environment. The quality of the sensing hardware shall be automotive quality, and not consumer electronics (CE) quality. Also obsolescence is an important aspect: automotive electronics should least for more than 8 years, whereas CE is typically less than 3 years. This is why car electronics is typically some technology nodes behind: nowadays 22-16 nm technology is being used in automotive, compared to CE which is already down to 7 nm.

Phased evolution

Compared to human reliability, which is at a 10-8 level, a self-driving car is currently only at a reliability level of 10-3. Therefore, autonomous driving is not immediately expected to be available for everybody in all possible conditions. There is only a phased evolution towards autonomous driving: there will be a “scene expansion” from single-lane autonomous driving to multi-lane to city. On the other hand, this will be combined with a “delegation expansion” from safety benefits to full minds of experience. Renault has already incorporated these evolutions and expansions in the Symbioz concept car, where autonomous driving enables the car to become part of the daily living environment.

Compared to human reliability, which is at a 10-8 level, a self-driving car is currently only at a reliability level of 10-3.

Sense – Think – Act

The vision on the importance of the sensing system is shared by Lars Reger, CTO Automotive and Sr Vice-President at NXP. He emphasizes that a car is not just a brain on wheels, just like a human is more than a brain on shoes. For the computers in a self-driving car to perform correctly, they have to be fed with the right information, acquired by sensors: self-driving cars work according to the principle of Sense – Think – Act. The importance of the sensing system is proved by the fact that fatalities by smart cars are not caused by malfunction of the brains, but of the sensors!

Seeing around the corner

Further improvement of the sensing system is necessary, in order to come to a level of autonomy which can drastically reduce accidents. Therefore, NXP is developing a full sensor suite that goes beyond the traditional line-of-sight, to out-of-line-of-sight to line-of-feel. This can be realized with V2X (Vehicle-to-anything) sensors: based on the received information from infrastructure or from other users, these sensors allow seeing around the corner. Sensor systems for self-driving cars shall also be redundant: vision and radar are very complementary. Radar can be used in bad visual conditions. It can also be tuned from a wide to a very narrow and very accurate angle, by adapting its antenna system.

NXP is developing a sensor suite that goes beyond the line-of-sight, to out-of-line-of-sight to line-of-feel, so that your car will be able to see around the corner.

Multi-beam LiDAR

On top of that, LiDAR (Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging) will bring an important contribution to the sensing system, providing additional complementarity to classical vision cameras and radar sensors. At the summit, Filip Geuens, CEO of Xenomatix, presented an innovative multi-beam LiDAR solution, that proves to be more efficient than Flash LiDAR (which scatters in fog, or is confused by similar flashes) or Scanning LiDAR (which requires beam steering and high peak power). The presented multi-beam and chip-based solution offers a two-in-one 3D point cloud together with a 2D image, and is available as a windshield mounted device.

Vehicle to infrastructure
Placed in city roads or in city lighting sensors will deliver the necessary data to self-driving cars.

Klaus Habfast, Vice-Chair of the Grenoble Metropolitan Council, approached the deployment of the cars of the future from a different perspective. As a city authority representative, he highlighted that cities also play an important role in the introduction of self-driving cars. Sensors are at the core of smart cities. Placed in city roads or in city lighting they will deliver the necessary data to the self-driving cars through a Vehicle-to-Infrastructure link.

This said, Klaus Habfast believes that the future is not to self-driving vehicles, but to Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) that get a lot of their information from the smart city sensors. There is one consideration, he says. The infrastructure for CAVs cannot exist in isolation and should be shared with other applications; moreover, the cities have to ensure a citywide availability.

Are you interested to learn more about innovative technologies enabling the car of the future? Then the “International Conference on Automotive Industry in the Euregio” on November 29th in Alden-Biesen (near Hasselt) might be worth a visit. This evening conference brings inspirational contributions. Melexis talks about ICs for the electric powertrain, Punch Powertrain tells you more about silent electric motors for the electric car, FKA Aachen elaborates on automated driving: a safety gain or risk.

Interested? Then register today!