Sensor advancements in the intelligent automotive industry

3rd November 2021
Kiera Sowery

There is no mistaking how far the intelligent automotive industry has already come in terms of innovation. But none of this would have been possible without designers’ constant development of intelligent sensor technology.

Kiera Sowery looks at cutting-edge smart sensor examples within the automotive industry, and considers what they will bring to future intelligent vehicles.


Automotive vehicles of the future will have improved connectivity with vehicle-to-vehicle (or V2V) communication sensor technology. Sonar establishes detailed maps using light reflections and sound wave echoes to measure the range to an object.

Ford has been experimenting with sonar technology to allow vehicles to sense each other and therefore allow better perception of nearby vehicles. This will mean that vehicles are able to escape collision of a car in proximity swerves, as the car will sense another car is close by and instantly brake. The success of this technology relies on having the right network of connected cars: the more vehicles on that network, the more accurate it will be.

Far infrared technology

Far infrared (FIR) technology provides the coverage needed to make automotive vehicles safe in any environment or weather condition. This is by giving better safety and adaptive cruise control features, as the FIR camera helps to interpret signals coming from the objects with radiating heat.

The camera that operates FIR technology can sense these signals using passive technology, meaning it is able to capture images that other cameras would fail to. The cameras are designed to sense any object in their proximity, meaning they can find lane markings with ease and therefore map the positions of pedestrians.

Radar ‘digital eye’

Radar uses radio waves to determine the distance, angle, or velocity of objects.

One example of radar technology is Metawave’s digital eye, which possesses 3D vision and a human-like interpretation of the world. This means that it can accurately determine the location and speed of a road object and classify the object, while driving.

Metawave’s SPEKTRA radar uses beam steering technology and various advancements in deep learning to extract meaningful information from the received signal. This technology enables object detection, classification and tracking and extends beyond line-of-sight objection recognition. Just some of its capabilities include being able to ‘see’ around corners, identify dangerous driving conditions, and analyse traffic patterns.


Instead of sending out radio waves like radar does, lidar emits the infrared light pulses that are invisible to the human eye and measures the time duration after hitting the object under detection.

The distance to the object or surface is calculated by measuring the time that elapses between the transmission of a pulse and when a reflection of that pulse is received. Lidar offers the driver data and precise measurements and allows smaller objects to be detected than that of radar.

Lidar technology delivers an accurate, detailed 3D rendering, making it easy to isolate objects and recognise what is in front of or behind them, regardless of lighting conditions.

Experts within the robotic car industry therefore believe lidar to be indispensable for the future generation of automotive cars.

ToF technology and guardian optical technologies

ToF, or time-of-flight, technology offers information about occupants of a car, including the total number, the way they are sitting, physical size, and their postures. As well as this, the technology can sense when the AC is switched on or off, or if the car has received an alert that can help send out an alert to vehicles in proximity.

Future automotive cars utilising this sensor will be able to collect the data, allowing advanced safety measures as the motion of vehicles can be accurately controlled, averting fatalities to a greater extent.

ToF (time-of-flight) cameras are focused on the automotive vehicle’s interior. The camera is a range imaging camera that employs time-of-flight techniques to calculate the distance between the camera and subject. It does this by measuring the time it takes for an artificial light signal, provided by a laser or LED, to travel between the source and the camera and then back again.

As the switch to autonomous driving will be gradual, as not everyone will have access to the technology, it is important that drivers can switch from autonomous mode back to manual mode.

While ToF technology is still in its initial stages, it is currently in use in some vehicles. For instance, the technology is already being used to alert drivers when they lose concentration, allowing the vehicle to drift towards the edge of the road. In the future, ToF cameras will be able to map a driver’s entire upper body in 3D, so it will be able to tell whether the driver is facing the road ahead with two hands on the steering wheel.

Shaping the future

The automotive industry is experimenting with the above sensor technologies and more, and such innovation will shape the future of intelligent vehicles. We can expect automotive of the future to encapsulate these technologies and perhaps even lead us to a future of autonomous vehicles much sooner than we think.

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