LIDAR Keeps Google’s Driverless Car from Going Bump

Stanley Driverless CarMost everyone has seen or heard about Google’s driverless car. People want to know what is on top of the now famous cars. The cars navigate by a technology called LIDAR and the device seen on the roof is a LIDAR sensor.

Though it may seem futuristic for a car to run on total autopilot, actually the technology behind it has been in use for several years.

The Google driverless car is predated by “Stanley” which was developed in 2005 by Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who is now employed by Google. The car won a $2 million prize, taking first place in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, which is a Department of Defense sponsored competition for driverless vehicles.

Thurn is also responsible for developing Google Street View. The Google car combines GPS, video information from Street View with the LIDAR sensors information and information sent from radar sensors on the front of the car. The car also has an additional sensor on the rear wheel which locates the vehicles position on the map. Currently, Google is testing seven driverless cars. Six of the cars are Toyota Priuses and one is an Audi TT

LIDAR is an acronym for Light Detection And Ranging. It is similar to radar, but instead of using radio or microwaves it uses light in the form of laser pulses. It can determine distances by measuring the time between when a pulse is sent out and when it is reflected back.

One main advantage of LIDAR is the ability to discern and detect smaller objects than radar. It can pinpoint objects that are invisible to radar and also provides much higher resolution than radar which enhances mapping of physical features.

LIDAR has become better known because of Google’s driverless car. But it really is not some futuristic technology that Google has developed. In fact, some cruise control systems are already taking advantage of this technology. These systems use a LIDAR sensor, which is mounted on the bumper. The device measures the distance between the car and any cars in front of it. If the distance is too close the system automatically adjusts its speed downward.

You will probably have to wait a while before you can buy a driverless car. Google’s driverless car is still in the experimental stage. Google has said it has no plans to develop the car commercially at this time. Some of the knowledge and data gained may begin to make its way to auto manufacturers and may start to be implemented.

There could be some legal problems with the cars as well. The California Department of Motor Vehicles said that all laws assume a car is human operated and the driverless cars are “ahead of the law in many areas.”

Image via Wikipedia