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Creating a smarter way to drive

(June 2023) Driving seems like such a mundane task. In many countries, teens as young as 16 are allowed to get driver’s license. So how hard could it be? 

Too hard for machines apparently. So far, no self-driving car has been approved to operate on public roads without a human present at the wheel. It turns out that there’s a lot of subtlety and judgement in operating a vehicle.

A typical street in the center of Shanghai

For several years now, Huawei has been developing its Advanced Driving System. It’s now implemented in several models of Chinese cars. Humans are still at the wheel, but the cars perform numerous tasks on their own. Cars implementing Huawei ADS can park themselves in the tightest spots. And in automatic mode, they can operate in the most power or fuel-efficient manner while relieving the driver of most of the stress of navigating in busy traffic. 

Huawei recently released a documentary that provides a behind the scene look at the group of researchers and engineers behind the development of ADS.  Scroll down to watch it. 

It shouldn’t be long before ADS is able and permitted to circulate entirely on its own, to pick up children at school, for example.

Employees of Huawei and partners testing ADS

Lidars are one of the key features of Huawei’s ADS. Light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors use lasers to determine distances from objects. This is a key piece of information that a machine needs to have if it’s going to drive a car on its own. Because of this, many manufacturers build smart cars equipped with one or two lidars. Other car makers rely only on cameras. Huawei ADS is the only driving technology currently on the market that harnesses three lidars per vehicle. 

Compared to other smart driving systems, Huawei ADS needs far less data to “train” itself to operate a vehicle. That’s because lidar data combined with camera data provides much richer information. The system doesn’t need to learn “this is a bicycle, this a human, this a dog, this a pothole.” Instead, it can just “sense” the size, speed, and location of an object near the vehicle and make appropriate driving decisions.

Precise fitting of lidars on the vehicle is critical to its proper performance

That’s for the ADS’ hardware side of things. On the software side, ADS has been fine-tuned to make almost human-like decisions on how to behave in traffic. Should the car consistently not give way to other vehicles when it has right of way? That’s recipe for an accident. On the other hand, if the vehicle always give way, it will be too slow to get to its destination; it could also cause other drivers waiting behind to get impatient. 

To fine tune the algorithms behind ADS, Huawei software engineers have spent countless hours testing the system in an uncountable number of driving scenarios. A lot of this has been done in the heart of Shanghai where traffic conditions are among the most complex in the world.

Lidars being calibrated before a car hits the road. 

Cars with ADS don’t only behave well in traffic, they can also select the best route to get to a destination, considering not only the distance but also traffic congestion and energy efficiency. The infrastructure behind Navigation  Cruise Assist, which is fairly minimal actually, is currently deployed in a growing number of cities in China. 

Huawei ADS was developed in collaboration with Magna, one of the world’s largest car part supplier. Here, Magna staff at work at the company’s plant in Jiangsu Province, China.

ADS came to life through the tireless efforts of Huawei employees and partners, which include both suppliers and the carmakers that are the customers for ADS. To document this historic feat as it unfolded, Huawei filmed a documentary over three years from 2020 through 2022. The documentary illustrates the exciting challenges that are part of developing a technology like ADS. It also provides a taste of how thoroughly ADS was tested on a variety of road conditions.