How can we use remote sensing to improve driver assistance systems in poor weather? And how might similar sensing technologies be applied in areas as diverse as robotics and healthcare? These are just a few of the questions posed by RobustSENSE and TARANTO, two ECSEL projects which deserve greater recognition for their innovative results and impressive collaboration.
One project which has seen success after its conclusion is RobustSENSE, which ran from June 2015 to May 2018. With fifteen partners and a budget of over eight million euros, they made important breakthroughs in driver assistance and high-range LiDAR sensors. “We were one of the first in the world to start developing a weather-resistant advanced driver-assistance system,” explains Dr Werner Ritter, project coordinator and manager at Daimler AG. “In doing so, we initiated a large number of ‘new’ topics, such as the development of an integrated sensor platform that can adapt to harsh weather conditions, perception degradations and failures.”
Previously, driver assistance systems were only practical in good weather; poor conditions such as heavy rain and fog were significantly less safe and reliable. The RobustSENSE platform, however, distinguishes itself with the ability to manage both complexity and uncertainty on the road. A sensor layer, for instance, continuously scans the environment while a fusion layer generates a complete overview of disparate factors, such as weather conditions, pedestrians and other vehicles. Uniquely, a self-assessment system registers whether the sensor is obscured (such as by snow) and adjusts its calculations accordingly.
For Werner, the greatest pride comes from RobustSENSE’s improvements to LiDAR technology, a remote sensing method for measuring distances. “As one of the first worldwide, we have further developed an existing 905-nanometre LiDAR into a 1550-nanometre LiDAR. It was shown that a 1550-nanometre LiDAR is significantly more powerful than a conventional 905-nanometre LiDAR,” he notes. In practical terms, this gives the system more time to make decisions, such as to slow down in the face of an unclear situation and to decide when it can again speed up.
The enhanced range of these LiDARs could also prove useful for mapping, while RobustSENSE’s software and optical sensors may find a home in manufacturing and ICT. As for the automotive domain, Werner notes that “current high-end LiDARs are being offered as 1550-nanometre technology by several start-ups. These will soon be offered in high-end series vehicles (or at least in the medium term).” All in all, it’s clear that RobustSENSE’s results have a rich future ahead of them.
RobustSENSE isn’t the only project which has been looking into sensing in the automotive domain, although TARANTO’s scope also encompassed novel applications for telecommunications. With the project having concluded earlier this year following a total investment of €43 million and the involvement of 30 partners, hopes are high for its promising results.
“The project had three main activity areas: technology, telecommunications applications & systems and radar applications & systems,” says Pierre-Jérôme Goirand, Senior Partnership Manager at ST. The first of these concerns ST, INFINEON and IHP’s BiCMOS SiGe technology (CMOS based technology embedding high speed bipolar transistors that use silicon-germanium), which achieved a speed of 700 GHz for pilot lines in small volumes and 500 GHz for industrial technologies. “For telecommunications,” he adds, “we had what we call a 5G wireless telecommunication backhaul for networks and access points reaching mobile users. We also had optical telecommunication systems and network-to-end-user stations, all of which had successful demonstrators, and Nokia and SME partner Micram hit a world record in respect to data rates: 1.61 terabytes per second over 80 kilometres of optical fibre.”
As for radar, TARANTO has built three different demonstrators with unique applications. At 120 GHz, the first aims to position a robot as it moves within a room. Another allows smartphones to connect with home devices with simple antenna at 240 GHz while enjoying extremely low consumption. Finally, a pulse radar can be used for observation both in indoor spaces and of liquid flows, such blood pressure, and is compact enough to be included in portable equipment. For these successful results, the project was awarded the Technology Pioneer Award of ECSEL JU in 2020.
Pierre-Jérôme: “The collaboration and sharing of the results was very good. For the technology developments, there were thorough exchanges between ST and Infineon and between Infineon and IHP, a German laboratory for the pilot line and small volumes. For telecommunications, each demonstrator had an industrial partner and several SMEs and laboratories. This level of engagement and collaboration was highlighted by the project officer from the European Commission and is one of the reasons why the project received its award. The other reason was the dissemination level, as we achieved 189 papers published or given at conferences.”
In Pierre-Jérôme’s view, one of TARANTO’s biggest achievements is the end to very large angles of emission that place mobile users within an electromagnetic field – thanks to their active antennas, beams can now be directed specifically to the user. “We hope to industrialise the BiCMOS technologies as there’s a lot of demand for this, especially from telecommunication systems,” he concludes. “The radars should also enable automated mobility systems, as different car systems will embed optical systems which are sensitive to fog, rain and snow. The next steps will be to pursue the results of TARANTO in a new telecommunication-centric project.”