Lidar, visual, acoustic, thermal: The battle of the sensors continues to rage among autonomous vehicle developers, and sensor development is pushing the technology forward while lowering prices and footprint. While the AV space is being watched closely, all that activity in the sensor market is opening new opportunities in adjacent spaces.
A good illustration comes in the form of two new traffic management system cameras built on sensing architecture developed for the autonomous vehicle space. FLIR Systems, which makes thermal sensors for a variety of applications, including automotive, recently announced a smart thermal imaging traffic camera, along with a visible spectrum camera, both with artificial intelligence to optimize traffic flow on roadways and at intersections.
FLIR has been aggressive diversifying beyond the consumer automotive space. Last year, I wrote about FLIR's acquisition of Endeavor Robotic Holdings, a military defense company specializing in ground robots, for a whopping $385 million. That acquisition came shortly after FLIR acquired aerial drone company Aeryon for $200 million, and just before the company announced it had made a strategic investment in DroneBase, a global drone operations company that provides businesses access to one of the largest Unmanned Aerial Surveillance (UAS) pilot networks.
Those acquisitions, like the smart traffic cameras, highlight an opportunistic strategy of identifying useful business cases for FLIR sensor deployments and moving aggressively into those spaces. Traffic sensing and optimizing relies on the same situational sensing capabilities used in autonomous driving, and FLIR is betting it can appeal to municipalities by offering to optimize traffic patterns and increase safety. The system is compatible with FLIR's Acyclica cloud platform, which is already deployed in traffic management around the world.
"FLIR traffic systems are currently installed in 75 countries, and with the addition of TrafiSense AI and TrafiCam AI, FLIR now offers a fully integrated solution that enables traffic engineers and city planners to apply AI-based learnings to continuously optimize traffic flow," said Rickard Lindvall, General Manager, Solutions Business, FLIR Systems. "The integrated solution enables cities to improve urban roadway design to make cities safer and more livable."
According to the company, the AI-enabled cameras offer real-time data capture and processing to provide input to traffic signal controllers at intersections, which improves traffic flow and safety in real time. With the ability to capture heat energy data through a thermal sensor and a visible low-light, high-definition sensor, FLIR boasts uninterrupted monitoring in all weather conditions.
The cameras can also be used for vehicle-to-infrastructure deployments. Wi-Fi-enabled, the cameras could be used to communicate with in-car apps for travel time and road condition calculations.
FLIR will roll out the cameras globally in early 2021.