Exterior sensing, notably LiDAR, enables ADAS and ultimately AD. The most accepted way to classify vehicles on their level of autonomy is by the definitions of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). At SAE Level 3 and above, the vehicle takes over responsibility from the driver and assistance turns into autonomy. This means the vehicle should be able to perform its task without human supervision and intervention. This requires a step function in required system performance. Where Level 1 and Level 2 vehicles assist the driver and typically rely on camera or radar, or a combination, there are shortcomings in these technologies for 3D object detection. LiDAR technology addresses this, and there is wide consensus in the industry that from Level 3 onwards, LiDAR is needed for 3D object detection.
When 3D LIDAR is combined or fused with camera and radar, a high-resolution map of the vehicle’s surroundings can be constructed and allow the vehicle to safely fulfil its mission. The automotive industry started with more straightforward driver-assist use cases used in Level 1 and Level 2. As sensors and data processing gets more advanced, more difficult use cases can be covered, such as highway pilot or city pilot.
Ultimately, when every conceivable use case can be fulfilled by the system we define this as a Level 5 vehicle – fully autonomous and the holy grail of autonomous driving. This is expected to still be several years out from today. Moreover, there will be huge pressure to bring down cost and rationalize content per vehicle – to make autonomous driving available to the mass market.