Have you heard of LIDAR? If not, it is one of the most commonly-used methods for sensing vehicles and objects on the road, whether it be in passenger vehicles or in commercial motor vehicles. Most new passenger vehicles use a combination of cameras, radar or LIDAR, which essentially stands for “laser radar.”
LIDAR is used to look in front of the vehicle for potential hazards or collisions. It also works in concert with other safety systems such as collision mitigation systems and automatic braking systems. In fact, LIDAR is used in almost every safety system in production today, whether for passenger cars or commercial motor vehicles.
Many companies are working on using LIDAR for Class-8 commercial motor vehicles in a way that prevents the need for autonomous technology, although LIDAR can be used in either autonomous, semi-autonomous, or full truck driver control situations.
Even better, infrared LIDAR systems can work at night, low-light situations, fog, rain, and even swirling snow. LIDAR systems are particularly good at measuring physical distance no matter the environment. State-of-the-art LIDAR systems can measure the road up to six cars ahead.
The key is laser power amplification. As laser and lens technology continues to improve, real-time status updates come a lot faster. The only problem left is ensuring the LIDAR systems do not become blocked during use. Like a human eye with something in front of it, a blocked LIDAR system loses most of its functionality.
What Makes it Better
LIDAR is better than radar and other sensing technologies because it can sweep faster and view farther. On a Class 8 commercial motor vehicle, the application is even better because the LIDAR camera can be placed high up on the vehicle so that it has less obstructions and a good bird’s-eye view of what is going on around it.
Conversely, if you are using a simple camera system, the camera or video technology must take many pictures and then feed those images into a processing system that runs off an algorithm. This takes time, and when time is of the essence as a large Class 8 truck is barreling down the road, there is no room for delays.
LIDAR systems measure the distance to an object by bouncing a laser off an object and evaluating the reflection. This allows physical distance data to be the clue, rather than brake lights or a slowing vehicle. These systems mitigate the stopping distance required for large commercial motor vehicles.
Are They too Expensive?
Certainly, with these new technologies, cost can be an issue. Fortunately, as these devices go mass market and become far more commonplace, the price point will drop. Today, some manufacturers are offering multi-channel units for under $3,500. While this price tag may seem high, it is far lower than the cost of an accident.
The fact is, manufacturers are making significant strides in increasing the viability and safety outcomes of these systems. With a LIDAR unit on top of a big rig measuring the height of bridge overpass that is nearly 1,000 feet away, safety decisions behind the wheel become a lot easier.
Transportation companies and motor carriers see these technologies as a way to buttress their current safety efforts without compromising on cost. There is little doubt that technologies like LIDAR will eventually become mass market and far more ubiquitous in heavy-duty trucks. While it is still unclear when that day will come, as technology progresses, there is little doubt lasers will play an increasing role in improving the safety of large commercial motor vehicle use on our nation’s roads and highways.