Robotaxi sensor platform promises „safety comparable to aviation“

February 24, 2021 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Sensor platform promises „safety comparable to aviation“ for robotaxis
Start-up Neural Propulsion Systems (NPS) comes out of stealth mode with a bang: The company’s first product, an omnidirectional sensor platform for autonomous driving cars. The manufacturer promises a pretty ambitious performance.

Founded in 2017 and at home in California, NPS is pursuing a vision of traffic with "zero accidents." According to CEO Behrooz Rezvani, this will actually only be possible with autonomous cars - cars in which the driver no longer has to continuously monitor the systems and prove his attendance by regularly touching the steering wheel or the like. In other words, with vehicles that reach at least level 4 of the SAE definition of autonomous driving, in which the driver can quite easily take a nap or read the newspaper. Or, of course, with vehicles of the highest autonomy level 5, which manage entirely without a steering wheel.

However, such vehicles require very sophisticated technology. A technology that is very close to the state of perfection. For today, accidents involving autonomous cars generate much more negative media attention than those involving human drivers - think of the fatal accidents involving autonomous driving Tesla and Uber vehicles in recent years. "Society forgives human errors in traffic – but not technology errors," Rezvani said.

That's why NPS is stepping up to the plate with the ambition of ensuring driving safety at least on par with the safety level we see in commercial aviation. In its first product, the NPS 500 sensor platform, the NPS development team led by CTO Babak Hassibi has realised corresponding conceptual assumptions: Camera, radar and lidar work together; their effects partially overlap, increasing the reliability of the data and thus the necessary redundancy. Insofar, not a big surprise. However, a second pillar of the concept is based on the consideration that the automatic systems detect a potentially dangerous situation earlier. This gives the system more time to react. This increased time buffer is achieved through a greater range of the sensors. "We consider a sensor range of 500 metres to be essential," explains Rezvani. 

NPS' perception safety is based on two pillars: Reacton time and data reliability. Image: NPS

But that's not all: the NPS 500 can also "see around the corner" with its sensors and it can quickly and correctly detect very complex situations with many road users and chaotic movement patterns.

For this purpose, NPS uses, for example, a multi-band radar which, in contrast to radar sensors commonly used today, transmits simultaneously on several frequency bands - one frequency range of the radar is below 1 GHz, a second at 5-6 GHz and a third in the low millimetre wave range at 24 GHz. The signals from this multi-band radar are processed together using triangulation methods, and specially developed AI algorithms generate the necessary accuracy and resolution, promises Rezvani.

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