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LIDAR Drone Technology to Facilitate Self-Driving Cars

We are one step closer to getting self-driving cars, with technology currently installed in drones playing a role in making our cars smarter.

LIDAR Technology may be the next step towards running trials of the new vehicular phenomenon. It uses a laser light to accurately create three-dimensional representations of geographical areas. It then creates 3-D maps which the car reads.

Remember back in the day when we used to use the map directory to navigate where we wanted to go? This is basically that, except the car reads it – not us. It is a car reading a GPS by itself.

LIDAR stands for ‘Light Detection and Ranging’ (although originally it was just a term to blend Light and RADAR). It essentially uses a ‘pulsed’ laser to measure variable distances on the earth. It are these pulses which create those 3D maps. A LIDAR device consists of a laser, scanner and a type of GPS receiver. A neat video of how LIDAR works can be found here.

LIDAR is largely used by drones. Missions with drones have included things like:

  • Helping archaeologists explore ruins
  • Helping farmers discover where fertiliser is being overused and create maps of farmland
  • Mapping mining operations
  • Measuring roads during traffic
  • Measuring canopy heights and biomass in forests

And now, LIDAR is being used for self-driving cars. It can actually help cars detect lines on the road which communicates to the vehicle where to drive. Trials have commenced overseas, including in California.

Aerial drones have recently captured EastLink’s Mullum Mullum tunnel in Victoria. The images no doubt will play a crucial role in the planned trials of self-driving vehicles. In a recent Eastlink survey, 29 per cent of 15,000 respondents said they wanted their next car to drive itself.

It won’t be for years yet.

In March this year, an Uber self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona, United States. Uber halted its autonomous vehicle trials in four American cities after a car drove into a 49-year-old woman walking her bike crossing the road. She died from fatal injuries. There have been calls for the technology to be fully regulated before it introduces itself onto Australian roads.

There is certainly potential for such technology to create tremendous opportunities. We explored the phenomenon of self-piloted planes in a previous article too. But, like with all forms of transportation, safety needs to be the priority.

Photo taken by a Flickr user and used under a Creative Commons licence.