Among the many titbits of wisdom that Elon Musk dropped at a Tesla company investor event on Monday was the revelation that Lidar, a laser-based scanning technology that images objects in 3D, was “friggin’ stupid,” and that “...anyone relying on LiDAR is doomed.” It seemed a grandiose claim given how many autonomous car initiatives rely on the tech, but Cornell researchers have just backed up Musk’s predictions with a new method for self-driving cars to see the world in 3D using a pair of cheap cameras.
Being able to visualise and detect objects around a vehicle in three dimensions is crucial for autonomous cars to safely operate in a world where roads are shared with other vehicles, cyclists, and often pedestrians.
As a driver, every time you turn your head to scan what’s around your car, your brain is instantly visualising your surroundings in 3D and assessing potential hazards.
That’s why you’ll often see Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) systems perched atop autonomous vehicles.
Using spinning lasers they scan a vehicle’s surroundings and generate 3D images of objects near and far, allowing the software to analyse the results and pinpoint things to avoid.
Lidar’s expensive, though, often adding £10,000 worth of components to a car’s price tag, and it needs to be perched atop a vehicle for the best vantage point.