Severe weather conditions, such as snow, heavy rain or hail, have long been viewed as one of the last remaining technical challenges preventing self-driving cars from being brought to the market. This can only be overcome by developing a fully reliable environment perception technology.
Self-driving cars are a rapidly growing technology. They eliminate the human error which is responsible for the highest percentage of accidents. Introduction of versatile driving support systems has already resulted in a significant decrease of car accidents and improved the comfort of driving. However, there are still issues self-driving cars simply cannot yet deal with – bad weather conditions.
Current driver assistance systems offer comfort and safety in good weather, but in severe weather they often malfunction and fail. DENSE will develop an all-weather system sensor suite for traffic services, driver assistance and autonomous driving. The project identified key improvements needed to secure the driverless cars, which is to extend line of sight for sensors in restricted visibility conditions beyond the capabilities of human beings. This means reliable detection of other traffic participants and obstacles in adverse weather such as rain, fog, and snow, and in degraded light conditions.
This new sensor set will combine three technologies: radar, gated short-wave infrared camera and a short-wave infrared LIDAR. None of these three sensors could deal with all sorts of weather conditions individually; they must therefore be used together in order to ensure the technology complies with the high safety requirements.
DENSE will start from analysis of the contributing factors to car accidents in severe weather. This knowledge will allow defining functional and operational requirements needed to build an innovative sensor suite capable of operating in all weather and lighting conditions yielding outline specifications and system architecture needed for the actual sensor development and integration in cars.
The project will develop advanced radar with a high angular resolution operating in the 77-81 GHz automotive band, a Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) gated camera sensor with pulsed laser illuminator, and a new LIDAR that has not only an improved performance in adverse weather but also allows the assessment of road surface conditions.
DENSE will implement the high-level fusion platform integration between the three sensors to maximise their efficiency. In order to speed up the market introduction, the novel sensors suite will then be integrated to a vehicle, keeping the minimum size and low manufacturing costs while preserving the highest possible resolution, and tested in real life weather conditions.
The project seeks to reshape human interaction with vehicles and the future of European automotive and transport industries. The convergence of sensor-based and connected cars that are able to operate in all weather conditions will enhance mobility and safety thanks to providing a more flexible use of vehicles. DENSE will also strengthen Europe’s leading position of automotive industry, and open new doors for exploiting infrared, laser and radar technologies. Technology developed within the DENSE research program will not be limited to automotive applications and will be useful to other applications areas.
The sensor suite and its hardware and software components will certainly find their way into different sectors, such as safety and security, data communication and consumer products.