Optimized sensors are key to future of automated vehicles

Sensors are critical components of the modern vehicle. They are the eyes of a car, enabling everything from existing ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems) features such as automated braking and lane keeping to potential removal of the driver altogether. The consequences of these “eyes” not pointing in the right direction or not seeing clearly could be catastrophic; your car could needlessly break in the middle of the highway or suddenly swerve into another lane. Sufficiently high and safe sensor accuracy is essential, and calibration is critical to ensuring that a vehicle’s sensors are operating at the highest fidelity.

Sensors can be miscalibrated due to everything from daily normal use and changes in operating conditions (temperature or vibrations) to something more severe like accidents or part replacements. Unfortunately, very little emphasis has been placed on addressing the issue. This comes as no surprise; the automotive product cycle is incredibly long, and automated vehicles simply haven’t been tested long enough yet to thoroughly expose this issue.

Most standard perception sensors in the market today can perform intrinsic (refers to internal parameters of one sensor) calibration autonomously. However, extrinsic (refers to parameters relating multiple sensors together) calibration poses significant problems to fleets given the ever-increasing reliance on multiple sensors to overcome the shortcomings of individual sensors. Most calibration solutions today rely on picking functionally or economically inferior sensor configurations and/or simply hoping that the sensors never become miscalibrated from initial factory settings in the first place. Yet while this is obviously unsafe, there exist no common metrics to measure what it means for a sensor to be miscalibrated and no common standards that companies can hold their sensor calibrations up against. Every player in this space has their own unique sensor suites and an accompanying set of unique calibration practices, further complicating the matter.

Current aftermarket, maintenance, and return-to-service options are woefully underprepared to address the issue. Consider ADAS calibration at a typical maintenance shop. The procedure takes 15-120 minutes and requires expensive equipment (scanning tools, large and clear paved areas, alignment racks, etc.). The vehicle itself also needs to be prepared to meticulous standards; the fuel tank must be full, the tires must be properly inflated, the vehicle must be perfectly flat on a balanced floor, etc. Most garages and mechanics are underequipped and insufficiently trained to conduct what is an incredibly tedious and technically complex procedure. This ultimately causes improper calibration that endangers the vehicle’s passengers and those around them.

Innovations and opportunities in sensor calibration