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Bosch Believes Cars Should Have Lasers

LIDAR sensors are getting small and cheap—fast

1 min read
Bosch Believes Cars Should Have Lasers
LIDAR system on Google's self-driving car.
Photo: Glenn Chapman/AFP/Getty Images

Some auto companies have harrumphed their reluctance to embrace 3D LIDAR, a laser imaging system, saying that they hate the look of the revolving, roof-mounted tower that makes the Google car stand out [pictured above]. 

But the real reason has been cost: LIDAR capable of conning a full 360 degrees around the car doesn't come cheap. Yet.

It will, though, as Moore's Law and mass production reduce the price from the US $70,000 of the Google Car setup to sums denominated in the hundreds, as academic researchers recently said. Now one of the world's biggest auto suppliers is putting its considerable weight behind them.

"At Bosch we are convinced we need LIDAR for the future," says Jan Becker, director of the Bosch Research and Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. He was speaking yesterday at a San Francisco conference on automated vehicles. 

It's not that LIDAR will supplant radar and conventional camera systems as the eyes of tomorrow's self-driving cars. Rather, it will serve as a third eye (or fourth or fifth, depending on whether you count ultrasound, GPS and inertial guidance systems).

Redundancy is important not merely for sensors but for all critical system, Becker said. He said his company had demonstrated a car braking system with two independent methods of operation, so that a failure in one would  lead not to disaster but to a lower, but still tolerable, level of operation.

Redundancy is a good idea for control systems that might be deliberately targeted by hackers. "I am sure we will see deliberate attacks on cars, and that we must increase security," Becker asserted.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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