Sensors, A.I. in Focus for Driverless Car Parts Suppliers

Valeo CEO Jacques Aschenbroich answers press questions following a news conference at CES on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Photo by Erin Wade/BU News Service
Written by Erin Wade

By Erin Wade
BU News Service

LAS VEGAS — The name of the game in automotive parts suppliers for driverless cars at CES this year is sensors.

Well, and artificial intelligence, of course.

From Continental Corp. to ZF Friedrichshafen AG to Valeo, the talk of the town at Wednesday’s news conferences was what new sensor technology could do for new AI technology, and vice versa.

Jean-Francois Tarabbia, Valeo’s senior vice president of research and development and product marketing, billed the company as having the “broadest sensors portfolio in the automotive industry,” announcing several sensor-related technologies, like 360AEB Nearshield and Valeo XtraVue.

“Everything starts with sensors,” Tarabbia said.

360AEB Nearshield will use sensors to allow its auto emergency braking, or AEB, systems to detect potential hazards from any direction.

“No matter what maneuver you execute, you are always safe,” Tarabbia claimed.

Valeo XtraVue will give cars the ability to access sensor data from other vehicles nearby, according to Tarabbia. A video played at the news conference showed a car using that technology to see in front of an RV so the car could safely pass it.

ZF unveiled a collaboration with Nvidia, a processor manufacturer, to create ZF ProAI, an artificial intelligence system that the two companies say will integrate with ZF’s existing sensor systems for use in autonomous vehicles.

And Continental announced that it was testing smart tires and a new 3D Flash LIDAR system.

For those not in the know, LIDAR stands for “Light Detection and Ranging,” and LIDAR systems use lasers to measure the distance between themselves and nearby objects.

Typical LIDAR systems spin frequently to gather adequate data, but Continental’s Head of Systems and Technology, Ralph Lauxmann, said their LIDAR is solid-state, meaning that it doesn’t have moving parts.

Complex sensor systems, using LIDAR, radar, cameras and other environmental sensors (like smart tires), are integral to autonomous vehicles — computers that drive cars don’t have sensory input from sensing organs the way human drivers do, so they have to rely on input from sensors to make decisions about how to drive in a given environment. Artificial intelligence allows these computers to get better at driving as they gain more knowledge about their environments.

So it’s no surprise that self-driving car parts suppliers are so focused on advancing both sensors and artificial intelligence.

But it is a good indicator that it’s time to brace yourselves — fully self-driving cars are coming.

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