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September 8, 2021

PlusSmoke400x275Self-driving trucking technology firm Plus has announced it will collaborate with Teledyne FLIR on a development project to explore the addition of thermal cameras to the sensor stack used with Plus’ Level 4 autonomous driving technology.

Plus said it takes a multi-modal sensor approach, currently using lidar, cameras and radar to provide trucks powered by its technology with a 360-degree view around the vehicle. While the current system offers improved safety compared to a traditional truck, thermal cameras add another layer of perception that can be useful for heavy trucks that travel the country in low-visibility and high-contrast conditions. These conditions can include nighttime, shadows, dusk, or sunrise; direct sun or headlight glare; and challenging scenarios when fog or smoke is present due to environmental conditions. Depending on the configuration, thermal cameras can detect and classify pedestrians at distances of up to 250 meters (about 820 feet), which is much farther than the reach of typical headlines. The companies said the sensors can provide another layer of perception around the vehicle, which is particularly helpful when the vehicle is backing up or when being overtaken by another vehicle.

“You can never be too safe when it comes to equipment you put on a heavy truck,” said Tim Daly, chief architect of Plus. “Combining thermal cameras with our other sensors would bring an additional margin of safety to our system. Our research pilot will not only assess the technical performance, but also consider cost and scale requirements in order to potentially add this to our product roadmap.”

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“We are excited to be working with the team at Plus as they explore the integration of thermal cameras into their current sensor suite, creating even safer autonomous commercial vehicles,” said Paul Clayton, general manager of components, industrial technologies segment at Teledyne FLIR. “By combining thermal imaging with visible light cameras, lidar and radar, Plus can create more comprehensive and redundant systems, allowing these vehicles to more readily detect and classify objects and humans on the road to help save lives.”

For more details on Plus, visit its website here. For more information on Teledyne FLIR, check out its website here.

Why this matters

Self-driving companies are beginning to explore scenarios and situations that are more complex than regular driving scenarios. The addition of thermal cameras that help a self-driving truck "see" obstacles better is more beneficial and safer than not having those cameras. However, it should be interesting to see whether costs can be kept low in order to not price themselves out of the market.