Plastic Omnium invests in electric vehicles and unveils a brand new sensor, integrated directly into the bodywork. As effective as a LiDAR is, it is both efficient and very careful. Elon Musk’s dream is coming true.
Article updated on January 7, 2023: Mobileye, a subsidiary of the American giant Intel, took advantage of CES 2023 to also release a high-definition radar (4D radar) that will be possible to do without LiDAR as we can read in the press release. Expected to arrive in cars by 2025. Enough to make Elon Musk’s business, who doesn’t want LiDAR in his electric cars.
Original article from January 5, 2023 : For years, car manufacturers and other equipment suppliers have been working on the development of autonomous cars. However, the latter must face many obstacles, such as technology of course, but also regulations. So some brands, like Ford, have decided to throw in the towel and focus on advanced driving aids, without full automation. However, this technology can bring many advantages, starting with the reduction of so-called “ghost” traffic jams. But for that, it is still necessary that the technologies are advanced enough.
A real change
now, there are four main types of sensors for autonomous driving, especially the radar, the camera, the ultrasonic sensors or the LiDAR. In most cases, and especially to reach level 3, they all work together. But it is mainly the latter that plays an important role, whereasit allows to generate multiple dimensions of the environment in a short time and it is very accurate. However, it also has some drawbacks.
In fact, it is quite expensive, which limits its use to the most high-end models, such as the new Volvo EX90 equipped with it. And its visual integration is not simple, as seen in the Nio ET7. But now a French company may have found a solution to make the autonomous car more accessible and reliable. This is Plastic Omnium, which unveiled its latest innovation at CES in Las Vegas: the 4D Imager radar.
Developed in collaboration with the company Greenerwave, it has an interesting feature: it is directly integrated into the bodywork. And more specifically the front bumper, as explained in the company’s press release. And this solution has many advantages, starting with aesthetics. Because if you’ve ever seen a LiDAR-equipped car, you’ve probably been struck by its rather unsightly presence on the roof.
With this solution, the problem is solved, because all sensor parts are hidden. And it also provides other advantages, such as better resolution, as well as better acquisition of information about the environment, thanks to larger reception area for radar echoes, across the bumper. Thus, and unlike LiDAR, its operation is not affected by climatic conditions or light. This greatly improves reliability and reduces the risk of accidents.
In a traditional radar, the antennas are very close to chipsets (the “heart” of the system, which consists of various chips and various components). Plastic Omnium’s solution is a bit different, because the antennas are separated and distributed everywhere on the bumper. But according to the company, all the body panels can be used here if needed, in the future. Therefore, this technology has many advantages, as it is easier to integrate into vehicles and is scalable. Then it is enough to change the size or the number of antennas according to the needs.
Repairs are cheaper, thanks to the separation between the chipset and the antennas, this system is also more reliable in the event of an accident. In fact, if one of the latter is broken, so be it the sensor can work in degraded mode while continuing to fulfill its mission. Able to see far and near, it can also classify objects to form images of complex environments, unlike conventional radars. In addition, its consumption is no more than 15 watts for its version with six antennas. Thus, its impact on the autonomy of an electric car in which it will be installed is almost non-existent.
If it looks very promising on paper, however it is necessary to show some patience before knowing more. In fact, the company intends to start making the very first copies only in 2026. It is specifically aimed at premium manufacturers, which means that this technology should be quite expensive, at least in its early stages. Plastic Omnium also specified that it is targeting robotaxis, which means that what Tesla is working on, and which will share its underwear with the future Model 2, could be equipped with it.
We know Tesla hates LiDARs and has just removed the radars from its electric cars for their questionable effectiveness according to Elon Musk in front of the cameras. But the situation may change with this type of product.
The Plastic Omnium system is beneficial in terms of safety, helping to reduce the risk of accidents thanks to its greater efficiency. Something that reassures future customers, but also manufacturers, that responsibility can now be held in the event of a failure. It was also enough to convince public authorities to relax regulations. Right now, only level 3 autonomous driving is allowed on the roads, but only under certain conditions. Only the Mercedes EQS and S-Class will benefit from this technology, while in Tesla, FSD (full self-driving) is still in beta test in the United States.
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