Autonomous vehicles require a whole host of new cutting-edge hardware and equipment in order to function on the road. Think about all the different senses you use when you drive, then imagine how difficult it must be to get the car itself to replicated all of that sensory input in a way a computer and automobile can understand. One of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment found on most self-driving vehicles is the lidar system, essentially the ‘eyes’ of an autonomous car. Autonomous vehicle developers all face hurdles when it comes to locking down suppliers for these specialized sensors, but BMW seems to have had a particularly difficult time, spending three years searching for a lidar supplier. Just this week, however, BMW announced that they have ended their search. Will BMW start making big moves in the autonomous vehicle market?
According to a press release, BMW has partnered with automotive supplier Magna International and its partner, Innoviz Technologies, to supply lidar systems for autonomous vehicles. Kelei Shen, president of Magna Electronics, says his firm is excited to partner with such an established brand to create a fully autonomous system:
We value the opportunity to support a premier brand such as BMW with our innovative technologies in sensors and systems. Our strong system capability and expertise at the fundamental vehicle architecture level gives us the ability to provide scalable solutions for different levels of autonomy.
Lidar works similar to radar, except it uses light instead of sound: a laser field is beamed onto the surrounding environment while a sensor simultaneously detects and analyzes the light bouncing back off of other objects. For level 4 and level 5 autonomy, meaning requiring no human assistance, these systems are of utmost importance. Can Magna and Innoviz help BMW develop a safe autonomous vehicle system? BMW hopes to have an autonomous ride-hailing system up by 2021, after all, and has been known to make and fulfill similar predictions in the past. Can they do it?