Auto Tech

BASF is working to make darker cars more visible to lidar

The chemistry giant is changing the way paint is formulated to only eliminate materials that absorb lidar and make the paints highly reflective to that part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Lidar is one of the most critical technologies currently available in the drive to develop autonomous cars. Dozens of companies, possibly even more, are racing to improve upon existing lidar so that it's better able to detect vehicles and pedestrians. What if, instead of enhancing lidar tech, someone found a way to make the lidar we have today work better? Last month BASF Automotive Solutions said it might have done just that.

Current versions of lidar can have difficulty distinguishing dark-colored cars thanks to the technology's use of the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dark colors tend to absorb more of the lidar's pulses than they reflect, which makes them difficult to see. It's kind of like wearing a black shirt on a sunny day versus wearing a white shirt. The black shirt absorbs, the white shirt reflects.

What BASF is doing is changing the chemistry of its automotive paints so that they are more reflective to lidar. Specifically, the company says, the color coat doesn't use any carbon black, which is one of the main culprits in the absorption of lidar waves, and the undercoat is formulated so that it's highly reflective to lidar.

BASF even went so far as to design its own highly lidar-reflective dark color to use as an example. It's called Centripetal Blue, and it's so dark that it almost looks black, but because it uses no carbon black in its color coat and it has a highly lidar-reflective base coat, it should pop out to a self-driving car. Plus, to our eyes, it looks pretty nice.