By on July 6, 2016


If you’re going to let people take their hands off the wheel and let the vehicle do the driving, you’d better offer every tool available to make sure it’s safe.

That’s the view of Stefan Sommer, CEO of German auto parts supplier ZF Friedrichshafen, who advocated for the use of LIDAR (light detection and ranging) in autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles in the wake of the fatal Tesla crash.

Quoted in Automotive News, Sommer said he didn’t have any details on the May 7 crash that killed Joshua Brown, but he did know what it takes to make sure a vehicle knows what’s in front of it.

“For autonomous driving, we will need three core technologies: picture processing camera technology, short and long-range radar and lidar,” Sommer said at a news conference today.

LIDAR uses laser beams to map out objects in front of a vehicle in a similar manner to radar waves. It’s an expensive technology, but several companies are actively pursuing it — including U.S.-based Velodyne and a Canadian developer that plans to conduct vehicle trials over the next two years.

Sommer said that LIDAR’s ability to recognize objects in bright-light and low-light situations makes it essential for any autonomous driving system. While he refrained from mentioning Tesla’s technology, that company’s Autopilot uses only a forward-facing radar and camera to see the road ahead, along with external sensors to monitor the vehicle’s immediate surroundings.

Brown’s Model S drove underneath the trailer of a transport truck while on Autopilot after the system failed to recognize the brightly lit trailer against the equally bright sky. Tesla confirmed that the light confused the system, but repeated its earlier warning that drivers need to remain aware of the road and be able to respond quickly while using Autopilot.

A Tesla Model S test vehicle spotted in California in March appeared to be outfitted with LIDAR, meaning future versions of Autopilot could adopt the technology. If it does go that route, Tesla could market Autopilot as a fully autonomous system, once lawmakers allow it.

Of course, there’s always those looking for an easier way to get the same result. In an interview with TTAC, Millennial hacker-turned-inventor George Hotz — who created his own self-driving vehicle from an Acura ILX — said he plans to develop a camera-only system for autonomous driving. His ILX testbed used LIDAR at first, but he said the cost of a Velodyne device is prohibitive. Cameras, on the other hand, have never been cheaper.

[Image: Volvo]

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26 Comments on “No LIDAR Means No Safety in Self-Driving Vehicles, Says Auto Supplier Exec...”

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    How convenient that he happens to sell the one thing every car maker needs. Did he used to sell vacuum cleaners door to door?

    I have no opinion on the actual technology, of course. I am just questioning this salesman’s motives.

    • 0 avatar

      Who remembers Mr. Haney of Green Acres?

      “You DON’T have an automatic seed planting machine??!”

      “Step over to the truck…”

      • 0 avatar

        “Automatic seed planting machine” sounds like a planter, which every farmer has used for the past, oh, 90 years. They’ve just gotten more accurate and bigger (once 2 rows, now 48).

        • 0 avatar

          Except in Haney’s case it meant a toothless old lady sitting on the back of his truck bed and spitting seeds onto the field from a little barrel of them she was holding.

          der-dernt.. der-der-der….

          DERNT DERNT!

  • avatar

    “[Tesla] repeated its earlier warning that drivers need to remain aware of the road and be able to respond quickly while using Autopilot.”

    Either Elon/Tesla has not actually talked to a human-factors expert or doesn’t care, because any one of them could have told him/them that this is an entirely unreasonable expectation. You simply cannot concentrate that long without any interaction.

    Either make the systems just an assist that stops working if the driver zones out (or make it obnoxious when it’s forced to assist you, like really jarring course corrections) or make it fully autonomous and take responsibility when it fails. The middle ground is a no-mans-land of avoidable accidents.

    (Personally, I vote for perfecting a fully-autonomous system that works on limited-access highways, but is GPS-locked from even activating when on a surface road. Once you go to surface roads, you should get emergency intervention only, at least until the technology gets a LOT better.)

    • 0 avatar

      Well to be fair, it does require your hands on the wheel. In that sense, it’s not much different in terms of inattention as it is when you’re on a long, empty stretch of straight level highway in perfect weather with no other cars around – you’ll zone out then as well.

      Or even adaptive cruise control on a highway – your hands are basically holding the car straight, nothing else. That’s essentially what autopilot is doing, with the added benefit of handling lane changes for you.

      • 0 avatar

        The difference between “autopilot” vs. cruise control or lane-keeping assist is that even the straightest road requires constant corrections to the direction of the vehicle. The corrections you need to make aren’t much, but they are enough to keep you paying attention to the road, lest you slowly drift out of your lane (or get beeped at angrily or jolted awake by an assist system)

        Are you at your super-sharpest when cruising down an empty road? Well no. But sans an autopilot system, it still requires more attention than just keeping your hands resting on the wheel.

        • 0 avatar

          “Are you at your super-sharpest when cruising down an empty road? Well no. But sans an autopilot system, it still requires more attention than just keeping your hands resting on the wheel.”

          I don’t disagree with this statement. I only disagree that the difference is so significant as to make it dangerous. I’d argue the opposite in fact. If I was driving down an empty stretch of road, the chance of me falling asleep and drifting off the road is increased. With Autopilot, it’d eventually start yelling at me and either wake me or slow down.

          I don’t believe that autopilot in busy highway traffic is going to cause me to zone out. I’d still be paying attention to the cars around me, there’s always that knob who commits to a lane-change even when there isn’t enough space and you need to save them from themselves, after all.

          Perhaps my already being used to (most of) this technology in my existing car has adapted how I drive with it enabled more readily. I can’t say for sure until I get my model 3. But as I sit here today, I can’t imagine myself thinking “Hey, I’m in pretty busy traffic, but autopilot’s on so I can relax”. On a clear stretch of road? Maybe. But only marginally more than cruise control + existing safety systems let me today.

          I’m guilty of doing boring-ass late night drives from Toronto -> NY or Toronto -> FL with no one on the road, everyone else in the car but me asleep, and realizing I was getting too drowsy to drive, and carrying on anyway because I just.. wanted.. to.. get.. there. Sometimes I’d realize I was too tired and we’d stay at a hotel, sometimes I’d wake myself up enough to continue. If I ever failed, though, and actually fell asleep, I’d sure as hell want autopilot there to let me know and save me from myself.

          • 0 avatar


            “I don’t disagree with this statement. I only disagree that the difference is so significant as to make it dangerous. I’d argue the opposite in fact.”

            do disagree is to simply not understand the human mind.
            And you arguing that yo are simply better at it from use is like me arguing I can drive, make cell calls,read newspapers and watch a movie because I have done so for years and am better than others.
            I can, and I am…but this is the argument anti cell users make against me.
            It is still illegal.
            Skill has nothing to do with the laws of dumb downing we make today. The laws are made for the weakest amongst us.

            And truth be told, there is no way you can mentally stay in the game if you are not forced to. Hands on the wheel or not.
            And the faster you go…the more stupid the name AutoPilot becomes.
            You become as unattentive to the outside world as a young girl sitting in a field of daisies.

            I will say again…anybody that thinks autopilot is anywhere near as good at analysing the surroundings as the human mind, especially skilled minds, is just ignorant of the workings of the mind. Decades or real hard earned experience and learning, entire lives are behind the matured and calculating mind.

            Skilled meditation teaches how wonderfully powerful and aware the mind is. Anybody who meditates learns this. The “present” awareness is astounding.

            But as wonderfully powerful it is…it is still faulty. You have dead spots and these cause you to make errors everyday. You are only as good as your senses…and so is this wrongly and deceptively named and “autopilot”.

  • avatar

    “You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have Teslas with frickin’ LIDAR beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here!”

  • avatar

    If only there were some way cars could be controlled by an operator that used light and distance information to avoid colissions. LIKE OPENING YOUR EYES AND LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD AND NOT JUST 20 FEET IN FRONT OF YOU.

    Tesla’s system works well when the driver is also paying attention. I’ve driven cars with more active systems and it’s nice to have them take some of the load off paying attention. Like when I merge behind someone slow and try to get over, I can spend more time checking my blind spot if my car is making sure the anti-destination league isn’t tapping his brakes while merging at 15 under the speed limit.

    Tesla isn’t selling a system that lets you watch Harry Potter so why bother making it a system that’s so good you can snooze?

  • avatar

    While this guy may have an agenda bringing this up, he’s not the only one. Ford have comments to make about the various autonomy levels.

    “Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said, “the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4.” He’s focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. “We’re not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that’s not a fair proposition.”


    Ford’s position is that shared responsibility is a non-starter from a practical point of view.

    • 0 avatar

      The guy from Ford is right, and there’s countless studies to back him up. Tesla using their customers to “beta test” software still solidly in “zone 3” is a terrible idea, and sooner or later some lawyers are going to make them pay dearly for it. (Not that that will stop the legions of fanboy’s from crying foul when that happens, nor will it stop Tesla from blaming their customers, the media, anybody but themselves.)

  • avatar

    This guy made no logical argument. How does a laser based system that works on light beams avoid light interference better than a radar based system?

    • 0 avatar

      I have a list of situations that LIDAR will fail included by the manufacturer of the systems I have. It might have failed on the Tesla if it was headed into the sun and getting hit with a lot of infrared. I’ll try and post a link to the LIDAR manuals if they’re on-line.

      • 0 avatar

        Mazda calls their LIDAR system “Smart City Brake Support” (Not to be confused with their radar “Smart Brake Support”, great naming there).

        Relevant LIDAR safety warnings:

        “The laser sensor includes a function for detecting a soiled windshield and informing the driver, however, depending on the conditions, it may not detect plastic shopping bags, ice or snow on the windshield. In such cases, the system cannot accurately determine a vehicle ahead and may not be able to operate normally. Always drive carefully and pay attention to the road ahead.
        The Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) detects a vehicle ahead by emitting a near-infrared laser
        beam and receiving the beam reflected off the reflector of the vehicle ahead, and then using it for the measurement. Consequently, the Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) may not operate under the following conditions:
        l Reflection of the laser is poor due to the shape of the vehicle ahead.
        l The vehicle ahead is significantly dirty.
        l Under bad weather condition, such as rain, fog and snow.
        l The window washer is being used or the windshield wipers are not used when it’s raining.
        l The windshield is dirty.
        l The steering wheel is turned completely left or right, or the vehicle is accelerated rapidly and
        comes close to the vehicle ahead.
        l Trucks with low loading platforms and vehicles with an extremely low or high profile.
        l Vehicles with certain shapes such as a vehicle carrier.
        l Heavy luggage is loaded in the luggage compartment or on the rear seat.
        l If there is the possibility of partial contact with a vehicle ahead.
        l When driving on continuously curving roads, and entering and exiting exits.
        l Exhaust gas from the vehicle in front, sand, snow, and water vapor rising from manholes and
        grating, and water splashed into the air. l When towing a malfunctioning vehicle.
        l In the following cases, the laser sensor may inadvertently determine that there is a vehicle ahead and the Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) system may operate.
        l Objects on the road at the entrance to a curve.
        l Vehicles passing in the opposite lane while making a curve.
        l Metal objects, bumps, or protruding objects on the road. l When passing through a toll gate equipped with a bar.
        l When passing under a vinyl curtain or flag.
        l Plastic objects such as pylons.
        l Two-wheeled vehicles, pedestrians, animals or standing trees.”

        So, Certainly not the holy grail of detection systems, as Mr. Sommer would seem to suggest.

      • 0 avatar

        Tesla’s system doesn’t use LIDAR. Their system contains a forward RADAR for long distance/low resolution sensing, a forward image processing visible light camera for medium distance/high resolution sensing, and perimeter SONAR for short distance/low resolution sensing.

        Generally, when someone mentions LIDAR in the context of autonomous vehicles, they’re talking scanning LIDAR. AFAIK, the Mazda system is a fixed forward LIDAR sensor. Scanning LIDAR is generally intended to supplant/supplement image processing visible light cameras to create a more reliable solution with some tradeoffs vs a visible light camera (less data points, loses color/contrast detect, adds distance information).

    • 0 avatar

      MBella, you raise a great issue regarding interference. When you have several thousand cars across 10 lanes on a one mile stretch of road, and they are all shooting radar and lidar in all directions. Sorting through all those returns seems more challenging than military requirements.

  • avatar

    I have LIDAR in my Mazda6 today, for forward facing traffic at least. It’s mounted right beside the high-speed radar and camera in my windshield. Also have low speed radar mounted behind the grill emblem.

    I fond a lot of these autopilot articles hilarious because I have a car today that does most of this stuff, except the lane changes. Adaptive cruise control on my vehicle will keep me at speed or safely distant from the car in front of me. I have auto-braking systems to protect me from both low-speed, and high-speed lane incursions (like the recent truck incident with Tesla, though I don’t know that Mazda’s would have performed any differently). Only difference is I’m handling lane centering myself (though with lane departure warnings), and lane changes (though with blindspot monitoring detection and indicators in my side mirrors).

    In other words, Tesla’s tech isn’t so far beyond what you can get in a modern ICE car today, and I would use autopilot *exactly* the same way that I use the features in my Mazda, with exactly the same level of attention to the road. Just with me being able to relax my arms vs the steering wheel a bit more, and not worrying about lane changes as much.

    so please, continue to tell us all how Tesla’s making a terrible mistake offering this slightly-better-than-everyone-else tech as if it were rocket science beyond the other manufacturers. I’m sure most people today aren’t buying the trim levels that contain all this gear, but I’m sorry to tell you, it’s out there today a lot more than you may think, and not just on Teslas. The world is changing around you. :)

    • 0 avatar

      “I have LIDAR in my Mazda6 today, for forward facing traffic at least. It’s mounted right beside the high-speed radar and camera in my windshield. Also have low speed radar mounted behind the grill emblem.”

      You do? Why doesn’t Mazda say so? The best I can find for Mazda is Radar and it doesn’t even seem to differentiate that much between high-speed and low-speed versions other than that it’s designed to pre-activate the brakes preparatory to you applying them yourself or applying them itself if you don’t react quickly enough. The high-speed works to help you maintain distance from vehicles in front of you. Again, no mention of LIDAR at all.

  • avatar

    Naturally he would recommend them; his company makes them. That doesn’t mean they’re the only… or even the safest… system available. LIDAR as it is currently used is an extremely slow sensing system due to the number of 360° sweeps needed to build an effective picture of the local environment. Even his own website makes almost no mention of the use of LIDAR in passenger vehicles unless you specifically search for the term wherein you find it as a future technology, not a current one.

    When LIDAR can be set up like KITT’s hood scanner all around the car instead of relying on spinning optics on the roof of the car then maybe it will be fast enough to be an effective highway tool.

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota has their SPAD LIDAR system they’ve been demoing on a Lexus GS platform. Google, Ford, and Volvo’s autonomous cars all use Velodyne LIDAR sensors.

      It’s a “future” technology due to cost, not function.

  • avatar

    Friggin lidar sensors.

    Hate Mazda, Infiniti, and especially volvo.

    false the V1 all the damn time.

    Shut this crap off.

    If you need a gadget to keep you from tailgating then you should re consider driving.

    I used to have a laser shifter on one car…wonder if those would mess with the gadgets…

  • avatar

    And “Moooh,” says a cow.

    Humans manage with nothing but a fo4rward facing stereo camera.

    No doubt Lidar has properties that, at least seemingly, is desirable for auto awareness in traffic, but it’s hardly black and white.

    In general, and as much as this flies in the face of pervasive indoctrinated progressive dogma, “…………….., says some dude equipped with a hole in the head from which sound can emanate” carries exactly, no more no less, as much weight as ditto from the cow mentioned above. Build an autonomous car using Lidar, and see if yours, over time, meaningfully outperforms all those built without. No use moooh’ing about it.

  • avatar

    And in the process my Valentine One becomes useless . . .

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