Ford & Volkswagen-backed Argo AI Develops an Advanced Lidar Sensor for Self-driving Vehicles
【Summary】Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based developer of autonomous driving technology backed by Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen, announced on Tuesday the development of a new, advanced lidar sensor for self-driving vehicles called “Argo Lidar.” The lidar has the ability to detect a single photon of light, which Argo says is key to sensing dark objects with low reflectivity, such as a black vehicle in pitch darkness.
Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based developer of autonomous driving technology backed by Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen, announced on Tuesday the development of a new, advanced lidar sensor for self-driving vehicles called "Argo Lidar."
The innovation behind the new Argo Lidar is referred to as "Geiger-mode" sensing. Geiger-mode lidar has the ability to detect a single photon of light, which Argo AI says is key to sensing dark objects with low reflectivity, such as a black car in pitch darkness.
The Argo Lidar offers ultra-high resolution perception that provides the photorealistic imaging required to identify even small objects for safe operation of autonomous vehicles in busy urban areas and crowded city streets, the company said.
This, combined with higher-wavelength operation above 1,400 nanometers, gives Argo Lidar a longer-range, higher-resolution, lower-reflectivity detection and full 360° field of view from a single sensor. The lidar can even distinguish small, moving objects such as a dog or raccoon, from vegetation or static objects like a fire hydrant.
Lidar is a laser technology that emits pulses of laser light which are reflected back off objects. The reflected light is used to render a 3D image of the environment known as a lidar point cloud. The technology is an essential sensor for most developers of self-driving vehicles, acting as an extra set of eyes on the road.
When data from multiple lidar sensors is combined using sensor fusion, it can offer complete, 360 degree perception coverage around the vehicle.
The demand for high performance lidar is growing as automakers introduce advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) that support Level 2 and higher automated driving. Much of this demand is for lidar sensors capable of detecting objects at a longer range, so an autonomous vehicle's software system can more quickly respond to any hazards, such as a pedestrian in the street or disabled vehicle.
According to Argo AI, many lidar sensors are not robust enough to support a fleet of commercial autonomous vehicles, so the company has to develop one in-house for its needs. These lidar limitations are preventing the commercializing autonomous delivery and ride-hailing services, both of which Argo plans to support with its Self-Driving System (SDS).
According to Argo, detecting the most difficult-to-see objects from farther away and with more precision provides its SDS with 360-degrees awareness day or night. With Argo Lidar, the company says it will be able to deploy driverless vehicles on city streets, suburban neighborhoods, and on highways.
A video demo of Argo AI's advanced lidar.
This breakthrough in lidar was the result of Argo's 2017 acquisition of Princeton Lightwave, a developer of lidar designed to work in any weather and at highway speeds.
The acquisition and IP of Princeton Lightwave allowed Argo AI's engineers to develop a sensor that the company believes is the industry's longest-distance sensing range capability of 400 meters, with dark-object detection for safe highway driving.
The Argo Lidar was evaluated with extensive testing in six U.S. cities by Argo AI to support autonomous delivery services or driverless ride-hailing vehicles.
"Argo Lidar takes us to a whole new level of self-driving technology, unlocking our ability to power both delivery and ride-hail services," said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI. "The Argo Self-Driving System delivers the safety, scale and service experience that businesses want and their customers demand, especially coming out of the pandemic."
Argo says its new lidar is the centerpiece of its self-driving system, which is designed to handle the most complex aspects of human driving without intervention.
The Argo Lidar can even detect a black-painted vehicle, which reflects less than 1% of light, in a completely dark environment, even at long ranges. With 360 degree coverage around the vehicle, an autonomous vehicle can perform a left-hand turn on roads with oncoming high-speed traffic.
The Argo Lidar can also handle rapid transitions from bright sunlight to darkness, such as when entering or exiting a tunnel. These situations often temporarily blind human drivers. But for self-driving vehicles, its not acceptable to temporarily lose perception ability, so its was one of the challenges that Argo had to overcome.
The Argo SDS system combined with the company's fleet dispatch infrastructure and operations experience will help Argo AI to commercialize self-driving vehicles from driverless cargo and food delivery vehicles to robotaxis carrying multiple passengers in cities.
"We have unparalleled autonomous driving technology and operations capabilities," continues Salesky. "Proving out these abilities every day, across six cities from our nation's capital to Miami to Silicon Valley, we are ready to enable the next phase of growth for delivery, retail, and ride-sharing partners."
Ford Motor Co invested $1 billion in Argo in Feb 2017 to jumpstart its own autonomous driving development, back when the startup was a little-known Pittsburgh-based robotics company. At the time, Argo CEO Brain Salesky said that Ford was not acquiring his company, rather the investment will allow it to continue to operate as an independent company, which it has.
In June 2020, Volkswagen also closed on a $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI. As part of the agreement, Argo AI is developing self-driving technology for both automakers.
Argo AI said its hardware Development team is working with an unnamed contract manufacturer for series production of the new lidar sensor. The company said the first of these sensors are already supporting on-road testing of Argo's self-driving test vehicle fleet.
Soon, volume production of vehicles Ford and Volkswagen will lead to the widespread commercialization of autonomous delivery and ride hail services powered by Argo's SDS.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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