Self-driving vehicles still face many obstacles in their ongoing development; including the obstacle of extreme weather conditions. Companies and automakers alike have wondered how it could better the sensors currently used to work in hazardous conditions like ice, snow, or heavy rain. Now, with the integration of radar, there may finally be an answer.
What is radar? Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging System) is a technology that uses an electromagnetic system to identify an object by distance and location. While RADAR was created in 1935, its widespread use wasn’t until World War II, and it wasn’t until 1999 that radar was first used in the production of automobiles.
Until recently, self-driving companies preferred lidar(laser) and camera-based sensors over radar. The sudden interest self-driving companies have in radar may be due to some of the advantages radar has over the current sensors. According to LIDAR and RADAR Information, these advantages include penetrating mediums such as snow, giving the exact position of an object, determining the velocity of a target, and measuring the distance of an object. With these advantages in mind, three companies are actively incorporating radar into its self-driving technology: Bosch, Lunewave, and Wavesense.
Bosch, a global engineering and electronics company, has begun making a prototype in its ongoing journey with radar. This prototype pinpoints its location through a road signature created by GPS and radar data; forgoing the need for camera-based sensors. While Bosch is still developing its prototype, it has shown the prototype’s success through a recent test run on a snowy state highway in Michigan.
Wavesense, a company out of Boston, has a radar system unlike any other currently on the market. This radar system pierces the ground; gaining an idea of the surroundings through soil type, soil density, roots, rocks, and infrastructure. Based on the information gathered, the system creates a map of the road’s subsurface that allows the automobile to position itself laterally two centimeters and longitudinally 15 centimeters.
Lunewave, a start-up technology company in Arizona, created their own customized set of Luneburg antennas. Luneburg antennas, designed by German physicist Rudolf Luneburg in the 1940s, are radar antennas known for their range and detection capabilities. Lunewave updated the common Luneberg antennas by reducing its size to fit inside a vehicle. A device the size of a small fruit, these antennas can sense obstacles at around 380 yards, and sense obstacles from a 360 degrees viewpoint.