Radar technology, which was invented over a century ago and first widely used during World War II, could soon improve the performance of automated driving systems. While technology companies often highlight laser-based lidar sensors as a key enabler of automated driving, experts say next-generation radar sensors may hold some advantages. Namely, it has greater capability during bad weather and may be more cost-effective. Radar sees through fog, unlike lasers, which can be essentially useless in fog. Imaging radar is gaining traction and interest in the marketplace. Companies are exploring 4D imaging radar, which can provide perception, velocity information on targets, and a lidar-like point cloud.
In today’s automated vehicles, cameras, lidar, and radar serve complementary roles. Going forward, imaging radar could not only improve its performance in that same setup, it could also supplant lidar. Spartan recently raised $17 million from investors to further develop its flagship 4D radar-based software designed to improve the resolution and range of driver-assist and autonomous systems. Mobileye said its radars can offer a detailed 4D image of the roadway at distances of at least 1,000 feet, with a 140-degree field of view at medium ranges. As the industry’s collective radar technology improves toward lidar-like levels, its cost may allow it to surpass its rival sensor and complement camera information.
In January, Israeli automated driving company Mobileye said it is collaborating with Taiwan’s Wistron NeWeb Corp. to develop automotive-grade 4D imaging radars. The product, expected to be ready in two years, will improve AV perception and reduce the need for multiple lidar sensors in vehicles. In April, Israel’s Arbe Robotics Ltd. and China’s Weifu High-Technology Group disclosed a deal to provide Chinese autonomous trucking company KargoBot with 4D imaging radars for its commercial trucks. The deal involves research and development along with placing Arbe’s radars in in the Level 4 trucks KargoBot plans to produce. Executives from Weifu and KargoBot said Arbe’s radars would enhance safety features on their trucks. In February, Arizona-based Lunewave, another next-generation radar startup, said it had completed development projects with leading global automakers.
While some experts believe imaging radar could replace lidar, not everyone is convinced. Jason Fischer, executive chief engineer of autonomous technology at General Motors, said the automaker is squarely a “lidar-based company.” He does not believe that imaging-radar tech is yet on par. “I don’t believe it’s there today,” he said. “But it’s a growing field, it’s something we’re looking at because there’s cost parity there.” Imaging radar provides information to automated systems that can help them get out of tricky situations, particularly if they are receiving false-positive obstacles from other sensors. Radar can be an accurate cross-check. Amit Kumar, vice president of engineering at automated-driving company Plus.Ai, which has focused its software on the trucking industry, sees the potential for imaging radar to replace lidar. Imaging radar is not yet commercialized, he said. “There are certain issues with the imaging radar,” Kumar said. “If manufacturers can overcome them, there’s some potential there.”
Phil Magney, founder and principal adviser of VSI Labs, a St. Louis Park, Minn., firm that tests and researches advanced safety and automated driving systems, said radar is entrenched as part of automated driving systems. “I think radar has a bright future, so do cameras and lidar,” Magney said. “There’s no one sensor that can do it all.”