The 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge was a confirmation that a fully automated automobile is not only a possibility but a likely event in the next few years. The critical component allowing the Grand Challenge teams to compete was 3D scanning LADAR sensors enabling the automobiles to interact in the real world 3D environment in real-time. This was accomplished by using proof-of-concept, bulky, low capability and not completely eye-safe scanning LADAR systems. While a scanning LADAR may be undesirable for standard automobile applications, its success in the Grand Challenge proof-of-concept established the importance of real-time, dimensionally-accurate 3D modeling of the physical environment in and around the automobile. ASC’s solid state, non-moving-part, eye-safe 3D Flash LIDAR cameras are the natural evolution for creating real-time 3D solutions for autonomous vehicles that are destined to have a major impact on the automotive industry.
It is possible to make 3D videos with ASC’s 3D Flash LIDAR cameras enabling real-time 3D collision avoidance, autonomous navigation, adaptive cruise control, speed and hazard detection situational awareness and object tracking. Because of the amazing speed at which the 3D images are captured, they are immune to platform motion, platform vibration and object motion distortion. Various operational 3D Flash LIDAR camera modes can be implemented to enhance the automotive safety and application experience. The ASC “trigger mode” allows all the 3D pixels to operate as independent range-finders. A “delay-trigger mode” images only after a specified distance from the camera and a “gated mode” is used to see through obscuration (fog, dust, smoke, etc.). These modes can be implemented automatically depending on the specific application or circumstances (e.g. weather, nighttime, etc.). Unlike visible cameras, the human eye or other flash LIDAR devices, ASC’s cameras are not affected by strong sunlight, rain or the dark of night. The ASC camera is able to penetrate the fog (or dust) because the laser flash photons are smaller than the fog or dust particles allowing the laser light to penetrate and bounce back to the sensor accurately illuminating the scene in front of the 3D camera. Unlike the compromised visibility caused by oncoming high beam lights, the 3DFL image acquisition time is so short that the likelihood of interference from other 3D cameras is virtually impossible.