One of the largest technical challenges in autonomous driving is giving vehicles 'human' sight, a vital component in detecting and understanding everything from road signs and traffic conditions to avoiding pedestrians and vehicle collisions.

A new partnership between CSIRO's Data61 - Australia's largest data innovation group and Chinese self-driving technology company, ZongMu Technology, is aimed at solving this problem by equipping vehicles with computer vision, an intuitive way to allow a machine to see and understand the environment the way humans do and react to hazards.

The Smart Vision Systems Group at Data61, led by Dr Nick Barnes, will work with ZongMu to develop algorithms to estimate the space between objects according to the vehicle’s motion and predict the potential hazards of moving objects.

The market for self-driving vehicles is expected to jump from US$42 billion in 2025 to nearly US$77 billion by 2035, as more organisations compete to develop a truly autonomous 'Level 5' vehicle — a car that can handle all tasks and drive anywhere.

"Computer vision is the technology that allows autonomous vehicles to determine the difference between what is pavement and what is a driveable road," Dr Barnes said.

"Unlike laser sensors which rely on a series of points to identify hazards, computer vision offers richer information and a deeper understanding of road scenes through 3D image analysis, enabling safer automated driving."

Dr Shaodi You, Senior Research Scientist at Data61, said the technology would allow autonomous vehicles to quickly react to any hazards at a distance of 10 metres or further to avoid collisions.

"Our technology will allow self-driving cars to more quickly detect and avoid hazards, understand and obey road rules and to determine their exact location in relation to other moving vehicles and landmarks in a given environment," Dr You said.

"The laser sensors used by the majority of companies are prohibitively expensive.

"On the other hand, the computer vision algorithms we’re developing with ZongMu cost one-tenth the amount and will allow commercial and truly autonomous cars to reach the road in a much shorter time frame."

Shanghai-based ZongMu is a vendor of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS), technology used in vehicles to enhance driver and road safety.

ZongMu's chief executive, Mr Tang Rui, said the company was bringing cutting edge AI-based algorithms into automotive grade computing platforms to make self-driving cars a commercial reality.

"Our self-driving technology is already being used by China’s leading car makers, but Data61's expertise in computer vision will be imperative to our goal of bringing self-driving cars to market," Mr Rui said.

"We pride ourselves on providing our partners with high-level autonomous driving technology affordably and with the highest safety standards."

Data61 CEO Adrian Turner said the partnership would speed up the hotly anticipated arrival of commercially viable self-driving cars and ultimately contribute towards seeding a new industry and ancillary services.

"From smart vision and distributed sensor systems to robotics and signal processing, Data61 has a world-leading capability in cyber-physical systems," Mr Turner said.

"This partnership is building on our previous work in developing a bionic eye, using computer vision that has given sight to the visually impaired and has recently received $23 million in corporate investor funding.

"Through partnerships with forward-thinking companies like ZongMu, we aim to accelerate our data-driven future."

Data61 will work with ZongMu from research through to development with the final product available to the company’s customers in China and internationally, including original equipment manufacturers and partners in the mobility service industry.

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