Machine Design

Laser sensors to guide VW Passat in next Darpa Challenge

A VW Passat with three prototype laser sensors concealed in the body will compete in the next Darpa Challenge.

This VW Passat 2.0 TDI will operate autonomously, with three new Ibeo Lux laser sensors concealed in the body.

The laser supplier, Sick AG, Germany, and its subsidiary Ibeo Automobile Sensor GmbH want to demonstrate laser sensors for autonomous driving.

Laser scanners take measurements according to the time-of-flight principle. A laser pulse is sent and reflected by an object. The reflected light is captured by a photodiode and transformed into signals in an optoelectronic circuit. The interval between the pulse of light being sent and its reflection being received determines the distance to the object.

A rotating mirror lets the laser range finder operate as a scanner, with the mirror deflecting each outgoing beam. This lets the system build a profile of the environment within the laser scanner's range.

The car, fielded by a group called Team-Lux, is equipped with three Ibeo laser sensors, two in the front and one in back. The prototype sensors produce 360° vision that scans road conditions, buildings, other vehicles, and pedestrians up to 200 m (about 650 ft) away. Data is transferred to the onboard computer. Ibeo software controls the car.

Though Team-Lux will use the prototypes, most rivals will use standard sensors made from Sick and Ibeo. Team members believe they have an excellent chance in the contest where competing vehicles navigate a 60-mile course with neither driver nor remote control. The Challenge will take place next November in urban traffic conditions. "Our laser technology gives us a lead of several years over our rivals, especially in the field of object and environmental detection," says Dr. Ulrich Lages, Ibeo CEO.

This is the third race for autonomous vehicles organized by Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which is affiliated with the DoD. The first two races took place in the Mojave Desert. The winning vehicle in 2005 — a VW Touareg entered by Stanford University — had five Sick sensors on board.

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