Autonomous Cars Tackle Antenna Glut

Release time:2017-06-08
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source:EE Times
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How many antennas does it take to screw autonomy into a car?

This is no joke. In the emerging era of highly automated vehicles, as many as 18 antennas are needed to power the next-generation connected car, according to Taoglas, a leading antenna vendor headquartered in Ireland. That, of course, assumes that self-driving cars will need access to 5G connectivity.

Even without 5G, carmakers currently designing connected cars are demanding solutions that include everything from multiple cellular antennas for network connectivity, Wi-Fi for hotspot connectivity and GNSS for navigation to emergency call systems and other location-based technologies, satellite radio, AM/FM, radar for object detection, Bluetooth for smartphones and other devices, and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) antennas for vehicle-to-vehicle/infrastructure applications.  

In response, Taglas launched Wednesday (June 7) a reference design, called Axiom, for a low-profile, compact multiple (nine) antenna solution.

Axiom 9 in 1 Antenna Reference Design (Source: Taoglas) 

Taglas, founded in 2007, is an antenna specialist for the industrial market. It generates 50 percent of its business from transportation, including trucks, buses and cars.

More antennas needed
Asked what changed — in OEM connectivity demand — Dermot O’Shea, co-CEO of Taoglas, told us that the number of antennas has grown exponentially. Carmakers keep adding, rather than trying to trim back. Some users now don’t need an AM/FM antenna because they use Internet radio via on-board WIFI or have a subscription to satellite radio. But carmakers are constitutionally loath to eliminate a “feature.”

As a result, antenna vendors face substantial challenges. They must keep their packages small, make antenna modules easier to assemble (“no manual assembly should be required,” said O’Shea) and sell cheap. Above all, antenna arrays demand “really high performance,” O’Shea said, with OEMs expecting all antennas to work all the time, although jammed into a small package in close proximity.

Smartphone users accustomed to all connectivity at their fingertips would get upset if their GPS-embedded car went silent in underground parking. “Never mind that your car can’t see a GPS satellite. When that happens, they blame carmakers, not the antenna supplier,” said O’Shea.

Luca De Ambroggi, a principal analyst for automotive electronics at IHS Markit, agreed. “Since five years ago, the role of connectivity has been changing abruptly, because more embedded solutions and technologies are required in the car," he said. "They are no longer based on smartphone anymore but they’ve become part of the in-vehicle embedded electronics.”

He noted that the attach rate in cars is expected to develop further. “They are not just in premium vehicles but also in middle economy segments,” he said.

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 Innoviz Technologies of Israel is to supply its solid-state Lidar sensing to BMW Group for its autonomous vehicle production platforms. This is one of the first serial production contracts for solid-state lidar, according to a press statement from Canadian automotive supplier Magna, a collaborator with and strategic investor in Innoviz.Magna has been working with Innoviz Technologies to integrate automotive-grade, solid-state lidar (light detection and ranging) into its autonomous driving platform to support up to L4 and L5 self-driving systems across multiple vehicle platforms. The solid-state high-resolution lidar technology generates a 3D point cloud in real time of the vehicle’s surroundings, even in challenging settings such as direct sunlight, varying weather conditions, and multi-lidar environments. In addition, the solution provides a complete computer vision software stack and algorithms to turn 3D vision into critical driving insights."BMW is setting a high standard in autonomous vehicles development, and their vote of confidence in our lidar demonstrates how advanced our technology is," said Omer Keilaf, co-founder and CEO of Innoviz.Lidar Fills a Necessary Gap for Higher-Level Autonomous SensingABI Research forecasts that 8 million consumer vehicles shipping in 2025 will feature SAE Level 3 and 4 technologies, where drivers will still be necessary but are able to completely shift safety-critical functions to the vehicle under certain conditions, and SAE Level 5 technology, where no driver will be required at all. This, in turn, will help drive the shipments of vital lidar sensors that underpin the technology. As many as 36 million lidar units are expected to ship in 2025, corresponding to a market value of $7.2 billion."With the rapid development and deployment of various advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) packages by OEMs, higher-level automation represents the next suitable step," said Shiv Patel, a research analyst at ABI Research. "The primary functional sensor gap between today’s ADAS and higher-level autonomous vehicles will be filled with the addition of lidar, which will help to provide reliable obstacle detection and simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM)"ABI says that for conditional and high-level automation applications within the consumer market (SAE Level 3 and Level 4), solid-state lidar solutions from companies such as Innoviz and LeddarTech have emerged as the lidar form factor that will not only help enable robust sensing on autonomous vehicles but also, more importantly, satisfy stringent pricing requirements set by OEMs. These units are expected to reach price points of $200 and$750 per unit by 2020 for low- and high-end solutions, respectively. At this price, even with multiple sensors around the car, using solid-state lidar solutions represents a highly feasible option to OEMs on premium models.In fully autonomous applications (SAE Level 5) such as autonomous ridesharing, wherein the aim is to eliminate the driver completely, much more expensive, traditional mechanical lidar solutions, with their higher resolution for robust sensing, remain the go-to option.Players targeting the "robo-taxi" use case aren’t too concerned with vehicle ASPs, with their short-term "land-grab" objective being to maximize their share in the smart mobility market as it emerges. In these market conditions, it is purely a race to be the first to eliminate the driver, who represents the single biggest cost for these companies. Although the performance of solid-state lidar continues to improve, mechanical Lidar as part of a broader suite of other sensor types is currently seen as the only short-term option to enable full automation as soon as possible for these aggressive implementers.
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