This is what I look like when a car equipped with LIDAR scans me at a distance of 20 feet. (The dark object on my chest is my ID tag.) LIDAR is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating me with a laser and analyzing the light that gets reflected. It is one of several technologies that Toyota and other manufacturers are using to help cars form a coherent image of what is happening around them on a 360 degree basis.
Toyota also uses cameras but they don’t work well in bad weather. Sensors of all sorts are getting far more powerful, including those using radar. And then the cars are equipped with GPS systems that allow them to get a fix on where they are and what’s around them. This LIDAR system was created by MichiganTech Research Institute, which took the picture and provided it to me.
It’s important that cars have multiple ways of sensing what’s around them. “There is a risk in relying on a single sensor,” says Ken Koibuchi, general manager of the Future Project Division and also general manager of the Intelligent Vehicle Development Department. “We need redundant information from two or three sensors” to ensure maximum accuracy. Obviously, life and death are at stake here if a car doesn’t detect an animal or person or small child.
Koibuichi is one of Toyota’s main visionaries for building cars that are increasingly autonomous. “I hope this technology will change mobility,” he told me. “That means improving everyone’s quality of life.”