Autonomous driving technology company Argo AI claims to have tackled one of the biggest challenges that are preventing self-driving cars from becoming ubiquitous. It is about “seeing” drones and identifying objects at long distances.

Argo AI, backed by carmakers Ford and Volkswagen Group, has unveiled a new lidar sensor that the company says can detect and accurately identify objects at a distance of 400 meters. This is almost 100 meters longer than existing lidars and is critical when driving on the highway. Argo Lidar is so accurate that it can correctly identify graffiti on a wall or detect small moving objects (such as animals) among vegetation or any other static environment.

Most players in this space rely on a combination of sensors to control self-driving cars, the main ones being cameras and lidars. Cameras are excellent at seeing objects at long distances, but they do not work well in poor lighting, for example, at night or during bad weather. Lidar does not have such problems. However, this technology has so far been limited by the range and accuracy of object identification.

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A key breakthrough in the case of Argo Lidar is a technology known as Geiger Counter-Radiation, which the company acquired in 2017 with Princeton Lightwave. Lidar with Geiger mode can detect the smallest particles of light (photons) and thus see the darkest objects. Argo Lidar operates at a relatively high 1,400-nanometer wavelength, which also contributes to detection accuracy.

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