When people talk about sensors for self-driving cars, they usually focus on the ones most often talked about: lidar, ultrasonic (parking) sensors and good old-fashioned cameras. Flir came to CES 2019 to tell everyone that we're still missing something.
Flir, a company that specializes in thermal imaging, came to CES 2019 to show off its second-generation thermal camera development kit. The whole point of the kit is to provide a simple solution for adding thermal recognition to an existing autonomous vehicle platform. This isn't something for you or me, unless you're an AV platform developer -- this is largely for suppliers and companies.
So why care about thermal? According to Flir, it's all about adding an extra layer of mapping to pick up things that other parts of a sensor suite might miss. The company says its infrared camera can detect objects in conditions that would befuddle other types of sensors, like when there's fog or excessive glare from the sun. In theory, the system could detect a car solely by picking up on the heat signatures generated from the friction between its tires and the road.
Redundancy is a big theme in autonomy -- making sure the car can continually fall back on other systems if the initial ones have troubles -- so consider this camera a little extra peace of mind. The window of the camera is even heated, to help its functionality in adverse weather conditions.
To help showcase its tech in something tangible, Flir brought an entire autonomous vehicle to CES 2019, too. Flir's AV is equipped with its own infrared cameras in addition to the standard collection of cameras, lidar and radar. Flir's hardware is integrated into the autonomous emergency braking system, offering another layer of protection against a collision.
Thermal is an oft-overlooked corner of AV development, so it'll be interesting to see where Flir's cameras end up as automakers and suppliers continue to refine their platforms.
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