“We want to play in everything Level 2 and up,” Baraja vice president of engineering, automotive Jim Kane said last month of his lidar company, and he provided a sense of what such an technology deployment might entail for collision repairers.
Lidar is like radar or sonar — it “sees” other objects by bouncing a wave off of them into a sensor. In this case, the technology bombards the world with lasers instead of radio or sound waves. It’s used in autonomous vehicle development, but it also has obvious applications as another sensory hedge — or perhaps as a sensor replacement — for “less advanced” technology like advanced driver assistance systems.
The SAE Level 2 autonomy Baraja mentioned is the kind of ADAS popularized by Tesla’s Autopilot and spreading throughout mainstream vehicles today. The motorist must keep their eyes on the road and be ready to take over, even thought the car is doing the driving. Coming soon to mainstream vehicles will likely be SAE Level 3, in which the motorist must be prepared to retake control but can otherwise cease to supervise the vehicle’s driving under certain conditions. (For example, checking your phone in the driver’s seat while the car drives itself on a highway.) Level 4 is Google Car-level stuff, where occupants could all go to sleep and trust the car to drive itself under certain parameters, such as a specific geographical area.)
The same day we spoke to Kane, Baraja announced it had cut a deal with Tier 1 supplier Veoneer to “industrialize Spectrum-Scan™ LiDAR technology for the next market wave of L2+ through L4 autonomous vehicle applications.” The lidar manufacturer said July 19 it had “a roadmap that lends itself to be among the smallest-size LiDARs to enable vehicle integration.”
“Our target is definitely mass-market,” Kane said. He said the company is looking at a 2024-25 time frame for such deployment.
Kane said Baraja’s lidar differs from traditional spinning or rotating lidar in that it works like a prism. The device sends light waves out all over the place from a vertical axis and can receive 2,000 channels of data about the surroundings back. Baraja obtains an “extremely high resolution,” and it can achieve a “blur-free image” because its technology doesn’t drag the laser light beam across the sensor’s field of view. The tech shoots at 30 frames per second, and it can even allow an AI to zoom in and focus on a certain element it finds interesting, he said.
We asked about where collision repairers would find the sensor. Kane said that it’s a case of “the higher the better” for lidar.
“That’s where we want to be,” Kane said. Some OEMs are adding lidar as an afterthought below the bumper, which is “not the best location,” he said.
Within the vicinity of the roof with heating and cleaning support is a possibility, according to Kane. Behind the windshield is another option, he said.
“That’s another interesting application,” he said.
However, the heat the technology generates could require a fan up in the headliner to make lidar behind a windshield feasible, according to Kane. As with other lidar systems, an infrared-transparent area on the glass would also be necessary for the Baraja lidar to see through the glass, he said.
Kane in August said the company has spoken to OEMs about those three sites and the grille as possible locations for its technology.
One potential concern with lidar regards seeing dark objects — such as all the black cars on the road. The brighter the car, the “better the return,” according to Kane.
Kane said Baraja would experience some visibility loss with a dark vehicle, but “nothing super bad.” Putting metal flake in the paint “does help quite a bit,” he said, but even with flat black, “you do get light back.”
The trick will be to get as many photons back as possible, according to Kane.
“That’s really what we’re focused on now,” he said.
Lidar is much more expensive than cameras or radar, and Baraja is trying to reduce costs. One option might be to replace the camera-radar combinations automakers are using for autobraking with a single lidar sensor. It’s “still not quite cost-there,” Kane said, but there’s more discussions of using lidar as the ADAS feature spreads throughout the fleet.
However, Kane doubted Baraja lidar would become ubiquitous on vehicles soon, and the company would continue to focus on its current mining and industrial lidar business. “We’re gonna keep selling into that,” he said.
Kane said calibrating Baraja’s lidar could be similar to other ADAS, describing a setup with two targets separated by a known distance as feasible. “That would be the idea,” he said.
However, it could be possible to calibrate a vehicle on the road. Lidar mounted behind a windshield can key off the hood, Kane said. But grille-mounted lidar lacks objects “around to use.”
Kane said it and Veoneer are already examining calibration at the dealer and automotive level. “We’ve already started talking about those things,” he said.
Baraja’s solid-state lidar — no moving parts — also could simplify collision repair. While you shouldn’t drop the lidar and then install it into a vehicle, the tech is otherwise pretty hardy and easy for a repairer to vet, according to Kane. This might not be a “replace-after-every-collision” piece of ADAS.
The laser should aim in the right spot so long as the box isn’t distorted, and the software will be able to detect if something is amiss with the technology, according to Kane.
“We’ll flag it,” he said. “… We’ll let you know if we’re broken or not.”
Baraja, July 19, 2021
A point cloud generated by Baraja’s lidar technology. (Provided by Baraja)
The Society of Automotive Engineers in May 2021 released this updated chart of its J-3016 standard defining autonomy Levels 0-5. (Provided by Society of Automotive Engineers)
A Baraja lidar device is shown. (Provided by Baraja via Business Wire)