By Dirk Vanderhaeghen, Sr. Director, Global Strategic Marketing OEM, Automotive LED
At CES 2018, Ford’s CEO James Hackett delivered the opening keynote speech, where he addressed how the future of smart cities will demand more of smart vehicles and how this will be driven by new enabling technologies, such as Automated Driving (AD), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). He gave some examples on what Ford has been recently doing, such as their partnership with Lyft for self-driving taxis, in addition to a new partnership with Postmates for self-driving deliveries, which operates over 150,000 delivery vehicles U.S.
Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University, challenged the audience with some questions:
Connected driving, enabled by cellular communication between vehicle to any smart device environment (C-V2X), is under rapid development and driven by network and cloud-based technology partnerships between key telecom, software and automotive industry players and fostered by the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). New open business models aim to create new value spaces (transportation-as-a-service platform) through a wide ecosystem development.
These raise fundamental questions about personal freedom and privacy, which also need to be addressed as smart cities evolve. For example, the fact that Uber tracks all of your personal data location history raises concerns for many. Will such practices ultimately be accepted or rejected by consumers? That is to be determined.
Light Sensing Technologies Enabling Self-Driving Cars
There are a few key light sensing technologies enabling self-driving cars that we saw at CES that we think are worth keeping track of:
Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) for Assisted Driving (ADAS)
This safety application of surveilling the driver’s status (distraction, fatigue) is a key stepping-stone towards autonomous driving. Market commercialization is in its early adopter’s phase but will show rapid penetration by 2021. It is also incentivized by Euro NCAP, which mandates DMS implementation for top safety ratings from 2020 onwards and the U.S. NTSB recommending DMS for semi-autonomous vehicles. Key enabling technologies here are IR LED with ToF camera sensing. In next generation DMS products, IR LEDs will likely be succeeded by superior in application performing IR VCSEL technology. Deepening the understanding of the intricate application requirements is key in developing future fail-safe DMS systems.
LIDAR technology for autonomous driving (AD)
LIDAR (Light Distance and Ranging) sensing by means of IR light will become one of the key enabling sensor technologies for automated driving, complementing visual cameras and radar. First generation systems with mechanical scanning mirrors to enable 360 degree viewing angle have facilitated initial application learning and feasibility testing. Moving the technology now into an economic viable commercial product, we see that solid-state flash LIDAR has become the dominant solution architecture. Hereby, infrared light from a pulsed Laser Diode (array) source is being projected or scanned via a MEMS mirror onto the car’s surrounding. Via a Time of Flight (ToF) measurement of the reflected optical signal onto a photo detector array or matrix, a rich point cloud data set can be generated containing accurate position and distance information of detected objects (such as other cars or road users, crossing pedestrians or animals, obstacles on the road or even potholes in the road surface) and due to its high resolution it allows an adequate classification of these detected objects. Future system architectures might evolve to a full solid-state laser VCSEL matrix based illumination, which can further improve detection range, resolution accuracy while simplifying the solution architecture and lowering system cost. In most of today’s autonomous driving test vehicles, multiple Lidar sensors are put on the four corners and sides of the car to cover the full surroundings of the car, as such still a full 360 viewing angle can be realized.
Currently the competitive market landscape for LIDAR module manufacturers looks very crowded with a multitude of start-up companies backed up by venture capital, with each trying to position its proprietary technology and differentiated solution to full electronic system integrators and OEM carmakers. LeddarTech appears to be in the forefront of competition, having created quite an extended eco-system of co-development partners.
Trends in Automotive Lighting Application Technology
As LEDs are progressively replacing the conventional lightbulb technologies in the OEM automotive lighting market, it brings along opportunities for new application functionalities and intelligent digital features. High resolution Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) enabled by LED matrix headlamps are an example of the ongoing trend towards more ‘digital’ lighting. With increasing resolution requirements, appropriate solution architectures demand higher density pixelated LED sources. Further miniaturization of the high brightness LED die and packaging (microLED) can be seen here as a potential key enabling technology; leveraging core technology building blocks under development for consumer display type of applications such as large size TV (e.g. “The Wall” modular TV demonstrated by Samsung), diverse wearables and augmented reality near field displays.
In addition, regarding signal lighting, we see new possibilities for more dynamic and display like illumination. The progressive turn indicator is a first application example rolled out into the market place already. Looking further into future lighting concepts, we see slim and long line profiles up to illuminated 3D surfaces for exterior signage applications and interior Human Machine Interface (HMI). Communication functionality between car and human by means of visible light patterns is envisioned and demonstrated in several concept car designs. Related emerging technologies such as miniaturized RGB LEDs, 3D surface substrates, new optical materials and components (films, coatings, fibers) are being demonstrated in several concept designs.