Researchers working at Stanford University have developed a new laser imaging technique that could one day allow self-driving cars to see around corners, a new study published in the journal Nature reports.
The process works exactly as imagined, which means it can help autonomous cars stop at blind turns or navigate through tricky roads to avoid potential danger. In testing, the team found it helped stop cars that would normally hit a child coming around a turn.
This technology is important because traffic accidents — which claim more than 1.2 million lives a year — are the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. As a result, implementation of the system could significantly cut down on those numbers.
“This is a big step forward for our field that will hopefully benefit all of us,” said study co-author Gordon Wetzstein, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, in a statement.
To build the new system, researchers installed a laser device next to an incredibly sensitive photon director. That then allowed them to shoot laser beams at a wall and reflect them onto a hidden object. From there, those beams then traveled off the detector and back to the car.
That process — known as a scan — takes between roughly a couple of minutes to an hour to complete. Then, an algorithm takes in the protons as blob-like shapes and transforms them into crisp images in less than a second.
The team calls the technology “confocal non-line-of-sight imaging” or C-LOS imaging. While this is not the first time such a process has been used to find hidden objects, it is one of the furthest along. The team hopes they can further expand on the system to make it quicker and more efficient.
“If the other vehicle or person is arriving too fast, implying that there could be a collision, then the system could feed this information to the car, which could then autonomously decide to slow down,” said Daniele Faccio, a physicist at Heriot Watt University who was not involved in the research, according to Tech Times.