Infrared LEDs and lasers light the way for autonomous vehicles
Lighting in automotive isn’t just for visibility anymore. Increasingly, infrared LEDs (IREDs) and lasers are functioning as the de-facto “engine” in autonomous vehicles, helping to drive everything from safety to comfort to communication and more.
For example, high-power infrared pulse lasers for LiDAR systems are bringing autonomous driving a step closer to widespread implementation. Based on its successful 905-nm platform, Osram is developing new lasers dedicated to novel scanning LiDAR systems which pave the way for more compact, robust and economic solutions.
And because these lasers are robust and cost-effective, car manufacturers can affordably implement the technology in more of their vehicles, ultimately leading to even greater road safety.
IREDs are also being used for illumination with embedded infrared cameras inside the vehicle. For instance, carmakers are introducing hands-free driver-assistance technology that does not require the driver to have his or her hands on the wheel. But because autonomous driving is still in its early stages and people are still getting used to it, carmakers want to ensure that driver-assistance systems only work if the driver is paying attention to the road ahead.
To that end, there are now vehicles that feature an embedded infrared camera that tracks the driver’s head position and vision to ensure that the driver’s eyes are indeed on the road, not on an incoming text message. If the driver does look away from the road for more than a few seconds, the autonomous driving system is notified and sends a warning to the driver. If that warning is ignored for a certain time period, the system forces the driver to take back control and automatically disengages.
Another way infrared components can improve safety is by assisting in the deployment of airbags and other restraints. Airbags and in-vehicle restraints can be deployed more effectively when the gaze of the driver and passenger are tracked and the car “understands” where they’re sitting and how they’re sitting—slouched? Upright? Facing forward? This information can optimize safety features by enabling the car to deploy the right airbags in the right sequence in the event of a collision.
IRED technology can also play a role in safety (and comfort) by customizing the interior of a vehicle via identification of the driver with a simple iris scan. Once the driver is identified, the seats, mirrors and other equipment can be adjusted to his or her preferences.
There is even a use case in which ultraviolet LEDs are used to disinfect a car’s interior. Already a feature in Rinspeed’s Snap concept vehicle, ultraviolet LEDS could be an important hygiene feature in autonomous ridesharing cars one day.
Advanced LED lights can also be incorporated in the headlamps and taillights to help autonomous vehicles better communicate with the cars around them. These lights can send messages to other cars about the autonomous vehicle’s size, speed and position on the road, helping to avoid collisions and respond to sudden changes in the flow of traffic.
One final feature is the ability for LED-based devices to communicate with the environment around a vehicle, particularly pedestrians. When people see a driverless car, they tend to feel uncertain about the car’s behavior. Who’s driving? Anyone? LED lights around the car’s exterior can let people know when the vehicle is in autonomous mode. Those lights can even change color depending on who—or what— is at the wheel. LED matrix displays could also be incorporated into a vehicle to project messages on the road or on the vehicle itself. Such message might let pedestrians know that the car sees them and flash a signal that it is in fact safe to cross the road.
So enjoy the ride, because IREDs and lasers are helping to illuminate the road ahead for autonomous vehicles.