Plastic Omnium invests in electric cars and introduces a completely new sensor integrated directly into the body. As effective as LiDAR, it is also efficient and very discreet. Elon Musk’s dream is coming true.
Article updated on January 7, 2023: Mobileye, a subsidiary of the American giant Intel, presented a high-precision radar (4D radar) using CES 2023, which will make it possible to work without LiDAR, as we can read later in the press release. Expected arrival in cars by 2025. Enough to do Elon Musk’s job, who doesn’t want LiDAR in his electric cars.
Original article January 5, 2023 : For many years, automakers and other equipment suppliers have been working on the development of an autonomous vehicle. However, the latter, of course, has to face many obstacles, such as technology as well as regulations. So much so that some brands like Ford have decided to throw in the towel without full automation and focus on advanced driver assistants. However, this technology can bring many benefits, starting with the reduction of so-called “ghost” traffic. But for this, technologies still need to be sufficiently advanced.
A real innovation
Today, There are four main sensor types for autonomous driving, i.e. radar, camera, ultrasonic sensors or LiDAR. In most cases, and especially to reach level 3, they all work together. But above all, it is the latter that plays the main roleallows creating multiple dimensions of the environment in a short time and is very accurate. However, it also has some drawbacks.
Indeed, it is quite expensive, which limits its use to top-of-the-range models, such as the new Volvo EX90 equipped with it. And its visual integration is not as simple as it seems on the Nio ET7. But now a French company may have come up with a solution to make the autonomous car more accessible and reliable. This is Plastic Omnium unveiling its latest innovation at CES in Las Vegas: the 4D Imager radar.
Developed in partnership with Greenerwave, it has an interesting feature: it is directly integrated into the body. And more precisely, 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 how useless it is on the roof.
With this solution, the problem is solved later, because all sensor components are hidden. This gives it other advantages such as better resolution as well as better capture of environmental information. larger reception area for radar echoes, all over the bumper. Thus, unlike LiDAR, its performance is not affected by climatic conditions or light. This significantly increases reliability and reduces the risk of accidents.
Lots of assets
In conventional radar, the antennas are very close chipsets (the “heart” of the system consisting of various chips and various components). Plastic Omnium’s solution is a little different because antennas are separated and distributed everywhere on the bumper. But according to the company, all body panels could potentially be equipped with it if needed in the future. Therefore, this technology has many advantages, as it is easier to integrate into vehicles and is scalable. After that, it is enough to change the size or number of antennas according to the needs.
It is cheaper to repair, and thanks to the separation between the chipset and antennas, this system is also more reliable in the event of a crash. Indeed, if one of the latter is damaged, then the sensor can operate in degradation mode while continuing to fulfill its mission. Able to see far and near, it can classify objects to create images of complex environments unlike conventional radars. In addition, its consumption does not exceed 15 watts for the six-antenna version. Thus, its influence on the autonomy of the electric car to be installed will be almost zero.
If it looks very promising on paper, you need to be patient to know more. Indeed, the company intended to start the production of the first copies only in 2026. It is aimed specifically at premium manufacturers, which means that this technology should be quite expensive, at least in its initial stages. Plastic Omnium also says it’s targeting the robotax, meaning it could be equipped with a car Tesla is working on that will share its undercarriage with the upcoming Model 2.
We know that Tesla hates LiDARs, and according to Elon Musk, has removed the radars from their electric cars due to their questionable effectiveness in the face of cameras. However, with this type of product, the situation may well change.
The Plastic Omnium system is beneficial in terms of safety and helps to reduce the risk of accidents due to its higher efficiency. Something to reassure future customers, as well as manufacturers who may now have to deal with liability in the event of a failure. It is also enough to convince government authorities to relax the rules. For now, only level 3 autonomous driving is allowed on roads, but only under certain very specific conditions. The Mercedes EQS and S-Class are the only models to benefit from this technology, while Tesla’s FSD (fully self-driving) is still in beta testing in the US.
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