Autopilot: Tesla moves from optical to radar sensor

13 September, 2016

Published: 13 September 2016

According to the Tesla Blog, Version 8 of Autopilot software will have a significant upgrade. It will use onboard radar signals. Though radar sensors were there in all Tesla models since 2014, but they were supplementary to the optical sensors and image processing system(Mobileye). Here onwards the radar sensors would be used as a primary control sensor without requiring the camera to confirm visual image recognition.

The blog mentions:
…the big problem in using radar to stop the car is avoiding false alarms. Slamming on the brakes is critical if you are about to hit something large and solid, but not if you are merely about to run over a soda can. Having lots of unnecessary braking events would at best be very annoying and at worst cause injury.

The three step solution mentioned are:

1. Having a more detailed point cloud. Version 8.0 will have access to six times as many radar objects with the same hardware with a lot more information per object.

2. Converting radar snapshots, which take place every tenth of a second, into a 3D “picture” of the world. It is hard to tell from a single frame whether an object is moving or stationary or to distinguish spurious reflections. By comparing several contiguous frames against vehicle velocity and expected path, the car can tell if something is real and assess the probability of collision.

3. Third part is a lot more difficult. When the car is approaching an overhead highway road sign positioned on a rise in the road or a bridge where the road dips underneath, this often looks like a collision course. The navigation data and height accuracy of the GPS are not enough to know whether the car will pass under the object or not. By the time the car is close and the road pitch changes, it is too late to brake.

This is where fleet learning comes in handy. Initially, the vehicle fleet will take no action except to note the position of road signs, bridges and other stationary objects, mapping the world according to radar. The car computer will then silently compare when it would have braked to the driver action and upload that to the Tesla database. If several cars drive safely past a given radar object, whether Autopilot is turned on or off, then that object is added to the geocoded whitelist.
When the data shows that false braking events would be rare, the car will begin mild braking using radar, even if the camera doesn’t notice the object ahead. As the system confidence level rises, the braking force will gradually increase to full strength when it is approximately 99.99% certain of a collision. This may not always prevent a collision entirely, but the impact speed will be dramatically reduced to the point where there are unlikely to be serious injuries to the vehicle occupants.
The net effect of this, combined with the fact that radar sees through most visual obscuration, is that the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.

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