LOS ANGELES — A pedestrian stands along a street with one foot on the curb and the other in the crosswalk. A bicyclist lifts a foot off the ground and places it on a pedal. A jogger maintains a steady pace while heading toward an intersection.
Determining whether those road users intend to wait for traffic to pass or start their trips across the street has become one of the most vexing challenges for developers of self-driving systems. They need the vehicular version of a highly accurate crystal ball.
"You can't stop for every human being standing by the side of the road every time," said Henrik Green, senior vice president for r&d with Volvo Car Group. "But you also need to stop at the right point when the pedestrian is about to step into the street."
Last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Volvo said it had reached a milestone in honing that capability. While most companies attempt to decipher the intent of road users by using information from cameras, Volvo says it can now glean enough information from lidar sensors to both identify objects ahead of vehicles and predict their behavior.
Working with lidar supplier Luminar, Volvo says the companies can now track hand and leg movements of pedestrians at a distance of 250 meters. Driving at 75 mph, that would give autonomous systems as much as seven seconds to detect objects and predict their movements.
That's critical for figuring out situations such as determining whether a police officer is directing traffic to go ahead or stop, says Austin Russell, founder of Luminar.
"The reality is even the best-performing autonomous vehicle systems cannot reliably respond to situations like that today," Russell said.