Enabling reliable LiDAR object detection in harsh weather with Canatu film heaters


As the world gradually shifts towards autonomous driving, safety and reliability become even more important. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) has emerged as a key technology for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Its ability to improve safety by providing real-time 3D object detection through laser beam time-of-flight measurements has garnered significant interest in the automotive industry.

However, like all new technologies, LiDAR is not without its limitations. In particular, harsh weather directly affects LiDAR range and resolution. The good news is that innovative solutions, such as the Canatu film heater, have emerged to overcome these challenges, paving the way for a safer and more autonomous future on the road.

Automotive LiDAR systems are incredibly powerful. They work by emitting laser light pulses and measuring distance based on the time it takes for these pulses to bounce back after striking objects. LiDAR can fire hundreds of thousands of pulses per second, and turning these measurements into a detailed  3D map of the environment. Consequently, LiDAR can deliver high precision perception that traditional sensing technologies, such as radar, cannot match.

The adoption of LiDAR has gained traction in recent years. Rising safety standards in the automotive industry has increased demand for ADAS systems in which LiDAR plays a key role. Investments in research and development by automotive OEMs and Tier suppliers have yielded more compact and cost-effective solid-state LiDAR systems, thereby promoting their use in vehicles. While the industry’s focus is still on improving cost and performance, ensuring reliable LiDAR performance in inclement weather conditions is becoming increasingly important.

“LiDAR scans during fog show significant noise, which can be identified by a human, but an AI may struggle. When monitoring sensors’ ability to identify targets at varied distances, LiDAR visibility fell from 250m to under 50m in fog,” says Richard Dudley, principal research scientist at UK’s National Physical Laboratory.

Harsh weather has a direct impact on range and resolution, leading to safety concerns and operational challenges. To gain quantitative understanding of weather impacts on sensors the UK’s MET Office and National Physical Laboratory (NPL) are working on a joint Sensor Assurance Framework project which includes testing in natural environment at a fully instrumented meteorological test site.

During testing, NPL scientists monitored the vulnerability of ADAS sensors. According to Richard Dudley, principal research scientist at NPL, LiDAR scans during fog show significant noise, which can be identified by a human, but an AI may struggle. Moreover, when monitoring sensors’ ability to identify targets at varied distances, LiDAR visibility fell from 250m to under 50m in fog. These are prime examples of why the impact of weather on LiDAR reliability can no longer be overlooked.

To address the weather-related challenges, Canatu (Vantaa, Finland) has developed an advanced solution to ensure ADAS sensors can operate reliably in harsh weather conditions. The Canatu film heater is a revolutionary technology. Its purpose is simple yet crucial: it keeps LiDAR field-of-view clear by defogging and deicing the LiDAR cover lens. By doing so, the Canatu LiDAR heater prevents the build-up of snow, ice, and fog on the cover lens impeding reliable LiDAR sensor ranging.

Deicing and defogging functions are necessary to ensure autonomous driving in any weather. Our film heaters deliver industry-leading optical performance featuring high LiDAR transmittance and minimal scattering. These completely wire-free, thin-film heaters deliver fast and uniform heating across the entire sensor cover. They solve typical challenges like thermal gradients, hot spots, and obstruction of the view commonly seen with traditional wire heaters. This even heating is achieved because there is no metal obstructing the sensor’s field of view. The Canatu film heaters are compatible with 12V-48V systems and can be seamlessly integrated into the plastic stack through film insert moulding, resulting in a robust structure. Our heaters meet rigorous environmental reliability test standards, including the 85°C / 85% accelerated life test.

In a world where driver safety is paramount and autonomous driving is becoming a reality, LiDAR has emerged as a key technology. However, challenges persist in harsh weather conditions. That’s where advanced solutions, like the Canatu film heater play a key role. Canatu has highly developed expertise in developing film heaters with forerunner OEMs and technology providers. They have been in mass production with the automotive industry since 2015 with our touch sensor products. This experience equips them with the necessary know-how and resources to tackle the most demanding projects. Together with collaborators, they create breakthrough solutions that enhance safety, enabling autonomous driving – in any weather.

Caption: LiDAR object detection with Canatu’s film heater (photo: Canatu)

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