Third-Generation Self-Driving Vehicle Sensors Look Sleeker, Still Expensive

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Self-driving cars are coming. Here’s what the most up-to-date sensor arrays look like.

Have you ever wandered into a car dealership or local shop looking to replace the glass cover of a fog lamp and discovered the replacement costs were in the hundreds of dollars range? Now imagine that instead if a stone taking out a small foglight, it instead breaks your self-driving car’s whatchamacallit that sees the road ahead. Would the cost be in the thousands, or maybe even tens of thousands of dollars?

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The MIT-based Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is now on its third-generation of sensor arrays for its two platforms of autonomous vehicles in development. The sensors are shrinking and becoming easier to package in a low profile design. Toyota’s two-path approach will develop cars that can drive themselves, called Chauffer, and that you will drive but with a safety net that will save your bacon if you make a bad move, called Guardian. Both systems will need the same hardware, software, and power supply. The new sensors shown in this story are from the single-cockpit chauffeur test vehicles. We have added images of the second generation sensors (white car) and first generation sensors (gray car) at the bottom of the story. Despite the improvements, the sensors are still placed in areas likely to be damaged. TRI also revealed that the trunk has a large controller module that takes up space.

Led by Dr. Gill Pratt, a former DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) autonomous vehicle team member with ties to MIT, Toyota’s autonomous vehicle platform is among the most advanced in the world. The latest iteration of this technology is called Platform 3.0, and Toyota plans to demonstrate and display it at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. TRI reports that there have been three major updates, including two new generation test models, just this year. TRI says that it anticipates “continued rapid developments.”

Autonomous vehicles are going to be extremely expensive when they debut, and possibly will always be much more costly than conventionally piloted vehicles. Setting aside the cost of the sensors themselves for a moment, just the power demands of this technology require that the host vehicle will either be a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle.

That means that before the self-driving gadgets are factored in, the car is already coming with a cost thousands-higher than conventional cars.  The sensors themselves will be very pricey and we already know that just the autonomous braking tech now becoming more common costs well over $1,000. Subaru’s EyeSight system, for example, adds about $1,295 to the cost of a Forester. That technology is simple compared to the vast array of sensors needed for full autonomy.


John Goreham

John Goreham