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FLIR's thermal imaging sensors can detect objects ordinary cameras might not see. Photo: courtesy of Teledyne FLIR

New imaging technology is designed to address a dangerous blind spot when it comes to today's assisted driving systems: they don't always brake for pedestrians.

Why it matters: About 6,200 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles every year, according to federal statistics, accounting for 16% of all traffic deaths. Three-fourths of those deaths occur at night.

  • Millions of cars are equipped with automatic emergency braking systems, which are supposed to detect and avoid pedestrians. But they are often "ineffective" at night, AAA testing found.
  • These systems are powered by radar and visible cameras, which have trouble seeing in low-light, glaring sun or bad weather.
  • Adding thermal sensors could greatly improve pedestrian safety in these situations, as recent tests performed by VSI Labs, a technical advisor to self-driving car developers, found.

What's happening: Oregon-based Teledyne FLIR Systems, a maker of thermal-imaging and night-vision technology for the military and others, has developed a new type of sensor that can simultaneously detect both light and heat.

  • In a recent demo, I saw how well the so-called "thermal camera" picked up vulnerable road users like a woman crossing the street carrying a child's slide or smokers taking a break in the shadows of a parking garage.
  • The "blended thermal/visible technology" can also help detect humans and animals for forthcoming augmented reality systems in cars, FLIR's John Eggert told me.

How it works: Regular cameras make pictures from visible light but can struggle in high-contrast light/dark environments.

  • Thermal cameras make pictures from heat energy, not visible light, so they're largely unaffected by sun glare and shadows.
  • Heat (also called infrared, or thermal, energy) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect visible light won’t see thermal energy, and vice versa.

The bottom line: Sensor fusion — combining multiple perception systems into one — will help improve how cars of the future will see.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.

GOP congressman forfeits committee seats after indictment

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on Wednesday stepped down from his committee assignments after being indicted for lying to federal investigators amid a probe into illegal campaign donations.

What they're saying: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fortenberry said he is "grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.