BMW’s self-driving cars of the future will have 3D vision

Don’t assume self-driving cars will be the only autonomous vehicles on the road. BMW Group selected Magna’s solid-state lidar for future autonomous vehicle platforms, according to a news release. That announcement also may portend self-driving motorcycles, scooters, and even limousines.

For autonomous technology to be more than just a driver assist function, the system needs continuous, precise awareness. Trustworthy self-driving vehicles must sense the environment and road conditions as well as all other moving and still objects with extremely high degrees of accuracy.

For starters, autonomous cars need to prove they’re safer than human drivers. Autonomous vehicle controls with better judgment than some people display with current driver assist technology will be a tremendous relief.

Magna will collaborate with Innoviz Technologies to supply solid-state lidar components to BMW. Magna’s own complete autonomous MAX 4 platform uses the same solid-state lidar for vehicle vision, but the agreement with BMW Group is for Magna/Innoviz lidar only.

“Our strong system capability and expertise at the fundamental vehicle architecture level gives us the ability to provide scalable solutions for different levels of autonomy,” said Kelei Shen, president of Magna Electronics.

Other than the significant exception of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, lidar is the hands-down consensus choice for Level 4 vehicle autonomy and above. With a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, you can read books, watch movies, play games, or take a nap with confidence you’ll arrive at your destination safely.

Lidar bounces light waves off objects to determine their position and distance. Lidar can pinpoint position to a 4-inch circle. Four inches of precision isn’t tight enough for brain surgery, but it’s more than ample for vehicles and far greater than what’s possible with cameras or radar. Multiple lidar bounce-backs enable 3D vision. By incorporating lidar arrays in solid-state electronics, size and cost will be cut drastically.

Magna made no statements about whether BMW Group will use Magna/Innoviz solid-state lidar exclusively in its forthcoming autonomous vehicles or if the light-bouncing tech will work in conjunction with radar and cameras. Magna’s MAX 4 utilizes lidar, radar, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors to signal the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) central computing module.

BMW Group’s brands include BMW cars — including i and M variants, Mini and the John Cooper Works sub-brand, Rolls Royce, and BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle brand.

You may be able to visualize a driverless Rolls Royce Phantom cruising through town, but how about an autonomous BMW touring motorcycle? No one’s saying BMW is developing self-driving motorcycles, but adding vehicle autonomy and self-balancing technology to the two-wheelers would go a long way toward removing safety concerns.

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