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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Simulation has been critical to speeding up AV development, especially for motion planning and control algorithms. But in these simulations, vehicles are either not perceiving the simulated world at all or perceiving only scenarios that have been previously encountered on the road.

Why it matters: Using these approaches, vast amounts of on-road data will need to be gathered in order to reach the edges of a perception module's capabilities. An additional layer of simulation for AV sensors and perception systems could use synthetic data to accelerate the development of AVs.

Background: AV simulations test different modules of the self-driving software using map data and information about obstacles on the road.

  • In re-simulations, saved data from on-road drives can be fed back through the software. AV engineers can develop test scenarios to benchmark software performance and then compare the results after making updates.

What's needed: Simulating sensor models as well could help in several areas.

  • Optimizing sensor placement on vehicles. Being able to position and visualize the output from sensors is easier and faster using software than real hardware.
  • Creating data sets to train for rare situations. Simulations can model any imaginable scenario, however unlikely.
  • Feeding perception algorithms with synthetic sensor data. This allows engineers to continuously create new scenarios and test their algorithms, rather than waiting for new on-road data.

The catch: Sensor simulation for perception algorithms is difficult because each sensor type (lidar, radar, camera, infrared) has different levels of complexity.

  • In an ideal case, a real hardware sensor’s information could be reproduced using purely software. This requires modeling the underlying physics of each sensor and carefully constructing the 3D environment in which the synthetic sensors “operate.”
  • Synthetic data could then be passed to perception algorithms in a form that they can’t differentiate from real data.

These simulation platforms have to be capable of creating and rendering large photorealistic environments in real time.

  • Sensor tasks add to the load: Properly simulating radar or lidar can require casting millions of synthetic rays per second.

The bottom line: Sensor simulation for perception is still a new process, but could fill an important gap in the development cycle of AV software.

Chris Gundling is a senior software engineer at Applied Intuition, an AV simulation software company.

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Martin Luther King III and Rev. Al Sharpton. Photo: Cheriss May/Getty Images

Civil rights leaders from Washington to Phoenix are planning marches on Aug. 28 to push Congress to pass new protections around voting rights.

Why it matters: A landmark voting rights proposal remains stalled in the U.S. Senate, as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and other moderates block efforts at filibuster reforms to advance a bill held up by Republicans.

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Expand chart
Data: Violence Policy Center; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Nearly 3,000 Latinos each year have died from gunfire in the United States over the last two decades, making them twice as likely to be shot to death than white non-Hispanics, according to a study from the Violence Policy Center.

By the numbers: Almost 70,000 Latinos were killed with firearms between 1999 and 2019, 66% of them in homicides, according to the center’s data analysis.

Top labor leader Richard Trumka dies unexpectedly at 72

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who led the largest federation of unions in the country for over a decade, has died at 72.

The big picture: Trumka began working as a coal miner in 1968 and would go on to dedicate his life to the labor movement, including as president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO beginning in 2009.